Column: Construction waste dump is wrong for Claremont

By JIM CONTOIS, REB MACKENZIE, NELIA SARGENT, JUDITH KOESTER and HAYLEY JONES

For the Valley News

Published: 03-22-2024 3:05 PM

Claremont residents have a long history of resisting dangerous pollution, protecting the health of our most vulnerable neighbors, and fighting for the thriving economy that we all deserve. Given that we spent decades organizing to shut down a polluting incinerator and toxic ash landfill, we are concerned to see an out-of-state company bulldozing ahead with a dangerous proposal to build an industrial-scale waste transfer station in a city still recovering from Wheelabrator’s toxic legacy.

For the past five years, Acuity Management Inc., has been pushing a proposal to build one of the largest construction and demolition (C&D) facilities in New England next to the Westwood Village Housing Complex and near a residential neighborhood and an elementary school on Maple Avenue. This proposed waste transfer station threatens air and water quality, local infrastructure and economic development.

The company’s own estimate says the facility will receive nearly 80 trucks a day loaded with up to 500 tons of mixed C&D waste. In contrast, the controversial Wheelabrator incinerator was limited to 200 tons of trash a day. These mixed C&D waste loads can contain lead, mercury and PFAS, the toxic forever chemicals associated with cancers, harmful impacts to childhood development and immune and reproductive system disorders.

Acuity’s operation would truck 130,000 tons of potentially dangerous waste through the city annually, putting a costly strain on our region’s residential roads, releasing harmful particulate matter into the surrounding air and endangering schoolchildren’s commutes. To make matters worse, the majority of this toxic waste will not be recycled at all but rather sent by rail for disposal in other communities targeted by the waste industry

Early in Acuity’s application process, the Claremont planning director determined that local land-use regulations prohibited a proposal for a major change of use at the proposed site. In August 2022, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) upheld the decision, counting on resounding support from local residents. A subsequent bipartisan letter of support from Claremont’s state representatives helped bolster the ZBA's position.

Rather than respecting local land-use regulation, Acuity has decided to take the city to court for the Zoning Board’s decision. Although the most recent status update indicates that the case will be stayed through October 2024, the threat of legal action continues to hang over our community. Furthermore, despite overwhelming rejections at a local level, Acuity has aggressively pursued their-state-level permit applications to the Department of Environmental Services (DES).

The clear threat this proposal represents to public health, citywide infrastructure capacity and economic development obliges DES to respect land-use regulation and deny the siting of another major waste facility in Claremont. Claremont citizens must stand firm in their objections to a scheme that would turn a small-scale recycling facility into a massive solid waste transfer station.

Though the out-of-state company would like to keep this intimidation behind closed doors, we encourage residents to stay updated on the process, express their appreciation for the city’s stance, and call on the DES to deny any forthcoming proposals. We know that the agency has a statutory responsibility to weigh local land-use regulations before signing off on permits, and it is clear that Acuity’s intended use is prohibited under the City Code.

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Jim Contois, Reb MacKenzie, Nelia Sargent and Judith Koester are members of A Better Claremont, a grassroots group working for a safe, vibrant Claremont community that protects our families, our health and the environment. Hayley Jones is the Vermont and New Hampshire State Director at Slingshot, a nonprofit that works alongside communities most impacted by environmental health threats.