Middleborough residents battle industrial operation

Residents in north Middleborough are battling a composting business that opened on a long-abandoned factory property in their rural neighborhood two years ago and now wants to add a commercial recycling operation.

The residents contend the sprawling River Street operation would increase noise, odor, and traffic in the area and lead to loss of property value.

“Our home is something we worked for our whole lives,” homeowner John Theriault said. “Who wants to live across the street from rubbish and garbage?”

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Duxbury businessman Ron High bought the former K & F Brick Co. at 88 River St. in 2008. The 20-acre property was zoned industrial in the 1960s to accommodate the factory, but land around it has remained a rural-residential zone.

Its problems with neighbors began two years ago when High, operating as A-Plus Waste & Recycling Services, cleared the site of vegetation and brought in tons of yard waste and cranberries, to process and sell for compost. The long rows of decomposing material quickly became the source of odor complaints.

Theriault’s wife, Linda, said the smell makes outdoor activities impossible. “We had a cookout and 90 percent of the people left because they couldn’t stand the smell,” she said. “When we came here, we thought we would stay for the rest of our lives. Now we ask ourselves every week, should we move?”

High has now submitted a permit application for a recycling operation, and it is under consideration by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The business owner did not return calls for comment, but his lawyer, John Wyman, said both the composting and recycling operations are allowed because of the property’s industrial zoning.

“He has got a significant amount of money invested there, and it’s a good location,” Wyman said. He said a recycling facility is needed in the area. “We’ve got to do something with the stuff,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll have no shortfall of material.”

High’s proposal calls for trucking in cardboard, plastic, glass, and metals, which would be dumped in a building onsite, bailed into one-ton blocks, and loaded on100-yard trucks bound for a sorting facility. The operation would add about 40 trucks per day. He wants eventually to sort the material on site and sell it to mills.

The property’s industrial zoning in a residential neighborhood has come as a surprise to some homeowners.

“We built a home here in 1999, and it was a quiet, country setting,” John Theriault said. “We were told the property would become a cranberry bog.” That plan never materialized, and the site remained vacant until High bought it.

Christopher Bowden, who also lives on River Street, said he doesn’t think High lived up to his promise to construct a berm topped with fast-growing pines to block his operation from view when he tore out existing trees two years ago.

“The berm is barely a bump of ground,” Bowden said.

Neighbors have attended zoning board hearings, saying High shouldn’t be allowed to start a new business when they have so many complaints over his existing operation.

“The man can’t run a simple compost operation,” neighbor Dale Caswell said last week. “I can’t imagine what it will be like with a recycling operation. It’s really going to stink.”

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Joseph Ferson confirmed the agency has received numerous complaints about A-Plus and had issued a notice of non-compliance last April. 

“The facility was required to submit a revised odor control plan, and our staff is working with them on addressing all the odor issues,” Ferson said. “It’s an ongoing effort.”

The zoning board asked High to submit the odor control plan to review along with his recycling permit application, but board chairman Bruce Atwood said his panel has no authority over the compost business. Regarding the recycling venture, he said, “It’s in an industrial zone where you can do something like that.

“Every hearing, we go back to complaints from the neighbors,” Atwood said. “You listen to them, but say to yourself, there’s nothing we can do about it. He’s got the right zone.”

Atwood said the board’s focus is on shielding neighbors as much as possible. A zoning member is working with High on a landscape plan to block visibility and maybe lessen noise. The plan is expected to be ready when the hearing continues March 14. 

If the zoning board issues the permit then, High is ready to go. “There should be very little start-up time,” Wyman said.

The lawyer said he expects homeowners will remain dissatisfied. “Neighbors aren’t going to be happy with any activity there,” he said.