Residents, officials object to planned transfer station

A trash transfer station proposed for Holbrook has come under fire from Randolph officials and local residents as it moves through the state review process required by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.  

At a meeting Tuesday in Holbrook, a state environmental analyst listened to public comment ahead of an upcoming decision by energy and environmental affairs secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. on whether the proponents, TLA-Holbrook LLC, will be required to file an environmental impact report. The decision is due Jan. 25, and public comments may be submitted until Jan. 18.  

Randolph officials warned the garbage facility could hurt residents’ quality of life in south Randolph, near the 3 Phillips Road site on the western edge of Holbrook.  

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Speaking at the meeting, Randolph public health director John McVeigh said he intends to file a statement detailing the town’s concerns about air and water quality, traffic, noise, and control of rodents and birds. Such problems are documented to exist at transfer stations, he said.

When McVeigh questioned what guarantees could be made that the site would be audited for compliance after it opened, a Department of Environmental Protection employee replied from the audience that the transfer station would be subject to both scheduled and random inspections.

Holbrook and Randolph  residents expressed concerns about already-difficult intersections being clogged with truck traffic, about soil contamination that remains on the site from previous industrial use, and about liquids that could foul groundwater.

One resident said a traffic study had been conducted in August, when school was out, and that traffic conditions would be worse during the school year, but Holbrook Planning Board chairman Wayne Crandlemere said traffic studies use a mathematical model to account for such conditions.

He also argued that neighbors were making an unfair comparison to the site’s former chemical plant by alleging the station could cause health and environmental problems. The transfer station project will include environmental cleanup of the site, and without the station the land may not get cleaned up, because the town can’t afford it, he said.

“This is a good plan,” Crandlemere said.

The 23,330-square-foot facility, to be built on 11 acres of town-owned land leased to TLA-Holbrook, would include a waste transfer building, rail yard, warehouse, and office building. Trash would be hauled in by truck, sorted, and baled. The proponents hope to have much of it loaded onto rail cars, but trash could also be carried out by truck; either way, it would be destined for out-of-state facilities.

Daniel Garson of environmental engineering company Woodard and Curran, consulting for TLA-Holbrook, said all unloading, sorting, baling, and reloading of trash would be done indoors.

The station would have a drop-off area for Holbrook residents to dispose of household waste, yard waste, and recyclables.

Garson said studies showed the station would have “no adverse impact” and meet state guidelines on traffic, air quality, odor, and noise. The impact on wetlands would be offset by wetland restoration and other customary methods, and no runoff would leave the site, he said.

The Holbrook town administrator, William Phelan, defended the veracity of the studies by prompting Garson to explain that they were done according to accepted, objective methods.

Heather Sites, an attorney for TLA-Holbrook, said the station would not handle any hazardous waste.

David Murphy, town manager in Randolph, asked how Secretary Sullivan could make a decision when TLA-Holbrook  does not have a formal agreement to have trash hauled away by train. Without a haul-away plan, the site would become a “de facto landfill,” he said.

In response, William Gage,  he MEPA analyst, said the state would look at a worst-case scenario in which all trash would be hauled away by truck, if no rail agreement materialized.

The proposed station is zoned industrial, but opponents said it is located in a neighborhood and does not belong near residents.

Randolph officials have long been on record opposing the project; selectmen took a symbolic 3-to-1 vote against it in 1999, and the town sued the proponents and the Holbrook Zoning Board of Appeals in May 2010. According to Murphy, the Land Court dismissed the claim in December 2011, saying the town did not have standing to sue because it was not an aggrieved party.

After the meeting, Holbrook resident Katherine Connolly said in an e-mail that the parcel is subject to occasional flooding and questioned how TLA-Holbrook could effectively control trash-contaminated storm water. She also said that despite the studies, noise and odor could travel in the wind and make nearby neighborhoods “unbearable.”

Other residents during the meeting described a general concern that, even if the project met state guidelines, the real-life experience of neighbors could include noticeable problems, such as vibration of the earth and cracked foundations.

The project has received support from many quarters in Holbrook, including votes at Town Meeting, a townwide ballot, the Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Board, and Conservation Commission. According to Garson, two permit approvals have been appealed by opponents and are awaiting resolution.