Amherst Residents for Environmental Accountability (AREA)


Recent 2015-20016 Actions
Roux Associates is engaged to perform an independent environmental review of the site
Town's Response
Roux Associates analysis of DEP data: a carcinogenic contaminant leaching into the aquifer
Flow of contamination toward the aquifer south of the landfill needs to be further investigated
Preventing Amherst from becoming a second Flint, Michigan

In the News
SunEdison looses almost 90% of its stock value and has a class action lawsuit filed against it
Town of Amherst if fined by DEP for a water quality monitoring problem that took 3 years to correct

MA DEP Letter about conditions in the KC Trail Area

Previous Actions Related to the defunct Blue Wave Project
Analysis of the project's design discovers landfill cap problems
Engaging an attorney
Pre-trial letters
Filing a lawsuit
Blue Wave Project Cancellation

Recent 2015-2016 Actions

Roux Associates is engaged to perform an independent environmental review of the site

AREA Group engaged Roux Associates to perform an independent environmental evaluation of the Old Amherst Landfill. Roux Associates is a environmental consulting company with expertise and experience in landfill closures, maintenance and remediation in a number of environmental projects around the country.

The evaluation not only confirmed our worries, but also discovered new facts about a substandard landfill cap, poor maintenance and a on-going damage to the environment. The Roux research also discovered that the installed landfill cap is even more substandard than we thought, and would not pass even the DEP standards of 1988, when the landfill was capped. Click here to read the complete Roux Associate Summary Report.

Town's Response

Town response rejected the facts of the Roux Associates' Summary Report without backing them with factual data. Click here to read the Town Response document from the Amherst Town website.

AREA Group asked Roux Associates to analyze the Town's response and verify its statements by comparing them with the actual DEP site monitoring data. Roux Associates analyzed the Town's response issued a new report.

The new report not only rebutted all of the Town's assertions based on factual scientific data, but discovered even more disturbing landfill problems, with a carcinogenic contaminant leaching into the drinking water aquifer.

Roux Associates analysis of DEP data: a carcinogenic contaminant leaching into the aquifer

Roux Associates analyzed detailed sampling data contained in the DEP Annual Site Monitoring Reports. The results presented an even more disturbing picture with 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogenic contaminant, leaking in the Zone II aquifer protection area while the Town undercounts the number of drinking water standard exceedances in the groundwater (5 instead of at least 27).

The following lists just a few points outlined in the report (click here to read the complete Roux Report):
  •  The old landfill is leaching 1,4-dioxane, a known landfill-associated carcinogenic contaminant (pages 4 and 8 of the report).

  •  The Town notes that “only” 5 exceedances of primary drinking water standards in the groundwater have been observed since 2010, while the actual number is at least 27 (page 4).

  •  1,4-dioxane above the drinking water standard was detected within the “DEP Approved Wellhead Protection Area (Zone II).”  (page 9).

  •  The absence of historical exceedances of the drinking water standard for 1,4-dioxane is a result of the Town not using a proper method for measuring this contaminant before 2012 (page 5).

  •  The risk posed by 1,4-dioxane to human health and the environment is unknown because 1,4-dioxane was not identified as a “contaminant of concern” and was therefore not considered when the risk assessments were conducted for the landfill (page 6).

  • 1,4-dioxane was detected in the monitoring well in the Zone II Aquifer Protection Area in the concentrations substantially (~50 times) exceeding the drinking water standard: "In short, the water in MW 4-08 is considered drinking water and the measurement of 1,4-dioxane at 14.4 μg/L constitutes a condition that must be reported to MassDEP and handled under the MCP." (page 9)
  • "The source of this “significant contamination” may be attributable to drums historically buried at the landfill: Sometime prior to approximately 1980 up to 50 drums with content described variously as “paint,” “oil-based paint,” “most likely paint,” and “chemical waste” were buried at the landfill over 50 feet below ground surface." (page 8)
  • There is "a likely connection between the landfill and drinking water resources... The presence of 1,4-dioxane in both MW 4-08 and MW 5-08 indicates potential bedrock contamination originating from the landfill, which requires further investigation with additional bedrock wells." (page 10)
  • Ongoing contamination of the sediments and wetlands to levels that poses a risk to human health may be going undetected due to inadequate monitoring for conditions that pose unacceptable risk (page 6) 

  • A thinner, less expensive landfill cap was originally proposed in 1985 to save the Town $56,000 (page 2), but this landfill cap, in its current condition, is not effectively preventing infiltration of contaminants into the groundwater (page 5).

  • The landfill maintenance is sub-standard (page 7), and the landfill's cap is 150 times more permeable than was allowed by the 1985 DEP design specification (page 3). “Significant contamination” has already been observed, demonstrating that the landfill cap is not effective in its current state (page 3, 5 and 6). The Town selectively analyzes the data to argue that “significant contamination” has not been observed (page 4).

  • The effects of additional stress of a solar array on a landfill like the Old Amherst landfill are highly uncertain. It is likely that installation of a solar array on the landfill in its current state will substantially intensify the amount of contamination discharging from the landfill and pose a risk to public health, safety, and the environment (page 11). In addition, such an installation will significantly increase the future remediation costs and may limit the future remedial options (page 12).

Flow of contamination toward the aquifer south of the landfill needs to be further investigated

It was the prevailing view that the contamination leaching from the Old Landfill flows west, downgradient from the landfill, and not south, in the direction of the Lawrence Aquifer which is the source of drinking water for 50% of Amherst residents. Unfortunately, the facts shown in the Roux report challenge this assumption.

There are only two bedrock wells that were installed to monitor groundwater contamination in the bedrock: the rest of the wells stop before the bedrock, since the bedrock is harder to drill. On of this bedrock wells, MW 5-08, is located next to the landfill and shows high levels of 1,4-dioxane leaching from the landfill into the bedrock.

The only other bedrock well, MW 4-08, is located over a mile away, at the railroad intersection on the Station Road. This well is located well inside the DEP-designated aquifer protection area. This well is located not very far from the well used by the Town in the summer to pump drinking water, which is located off Station Road. As stated in the Roux report, the water in this well is considered drinking water, and should comply with the MCP GW-1 standard.

As shown in the Roux report:

"In July 2012, 1,4-dioxane was detected in monitoring well MW 4-08 at a concentration of 14.5 μg/L, which is substantially in excess of the MCP GW-1 drinking water standard of 0.3 μg/L. Monitoring well MW 4-08 is a bedrock well to the south of the landfill within the DEP Approved Wellhead Protection Area Zone II). Zone II means that area of an aquifer which contributes water to a well under the most severe pumping and recharge conditions that can realistically be anticipated… In short, the water in MW 4-08 is considered drinking water and the measurement of 1,4-dioxane at 14.4 μg/L constitutes a condition that must be reported to MassDEP and handled under the MCP."

The presence of 1,4 -dioxane contamination in the bedrock well at the Station Road indicates a possible flow of contamination south of the landfill, invalidating the assumption that it flows only westward and suggesting that there is "a likely connection between the landfill and drinking water resources":

"Based on groundwater elevation data from the only two bedrock wells at the site (MW 4-08 and MW 5-08) there is a strong possibility that groundwater in the bedrock aquifer flows south from the landfill towards MW 4-08."

The Town alleged that the 1,4-dioxane observed in groundwater on July 9 and 10, 2012 was the result of a laboratory or sampling error, and stopped testing the well in the spring and early summer, performing only one annual test in the late autumn, when the conditions are dry, which is clearly insufficient. The Roux report calls for monitoring seasonal variations, taking measurements quarterly for several years to study the seasonality of the measurements.

Since there are no other bedrock wells other than these two, it is impossible to monitor the spread of the contamination in the bedrock, which is the source of water for the aquifer. This is why the Roux report calls for installing additional bedrock wells to investigate a geographic distribution of contamination levels in multiple bedrock wells throughout the area. 

The measures proposed in the Roux report would be the only prudent way to prove or disprove the Town's assumption that the level detected in 4-08 well was a fluke, and, since it concerns the safety of the drinking water, it is wise to be conservative and perform a proper investigation, instead of dismissing alarming results as an error right away.

The consistent 1,4-dioxane leak detected in the well 5-08 is a separate problem that requires a continuous monitoring, locating its source and improving cap above it if the contamination levels increase over time.

Preventing Amherst from becoming a second Flint, Michigan

The above facts are a result of a detailed analysis performed by professional environmental experts with formidable experience dealing with multiple landfills around the country, not just this one.

The above problems are not about neighbors' backyards, but about protecting our collective Town backyard, its wetlands, and the drinking water aquifer. As a Town, we should be stewards of the environment, not contributors to its demise even if it is done with good intentions. We hope that neither the neighbors nor the Town want Amherst becoming a second Flint, Michigan.

The facts uncovered by the Roux report also create an appearance of covering up the on-going problems of the landfill cap by installing a solar array on top of it. We do not think anyone wants the Town's applaud-able green initiatives to be smeared by an environmental damage caused by unintended consequences.

We urge the Town to reconsider the ill-conceived decision of placing a large solar array on top of the inadequately closed and deteriorating Old Amherst Landfill, and start remediating the consequences of the ill-fated 40 year-old decision to reduce the thickness of the landfill cap.

This is a problem that affects all of us. The AREA Group set up a fundraising effort to fund ads in the local newspapers to alert Amherst's residents about the problem and to force the Town to deal with it. We are also trying to raise funds to enable continuous engagement of Roux Associates to analyze drinking water test data to detect any negative trends before it is too late.

Please consider participating in this effort and contributing any amount you can afford via the following link:

   www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/protect-amherst-s-water-supply

Please help us to spread the message. Thank you very much for your help in protecting Amherst's Water Supply!

SunEdison looses 90% of its stock value and has a class action lawsuit filed against it

SunEdison, the company selected by the Town of Amherst to install a large solar array on an improperly capped Old Landfill, is in the financial news again (click on the links to read news articles): In addition to a class action suit, the company also faces a 401(k) lawsuit from employees. Click here to read the news article.

SunEdison stock continued its rapid decline after a judge barred the company from making unusual transfers. Investors are preparing for another lawsuit on Tuesday and a news article mentions bankruptcy as a potential
next step. Click here to read the news article.

Sandy Pooler, the Town's Financial Director who reviewed the financial aspects of the deal and approved the deal, resigned from his post in January 2016 to pursue other opportunities.

In view of the documented dire state of the Amherst' Old Landfill and the risks involved in installing a large solar array on top of its already failing and leaking cap, we are concerned that SunEdison will not be around and the Town of Amherst will end up holding the bag when things go wrong.

Town of Amherst if fined by DEP for a water quality monitoring problem that took 3 years to correct

The Town of Amherst was in the press just recently for a water quality problem.  It was fined, and it took three years to correct a much smaller drinking water quality monitoring issue required by the Department of Environmental Protection. We are concerned that the much bigger problem described above will be hidden from public view and will not be addressed. Click here to read the newspaper article.

MA DEP Letter about conditions in the KC Trail Area

KC Trail ConditionsIn response to a 2012 inquiry, we received a letter from the Massachusetts DEP that confirmed that the KC Trail conditions depicted on the pictures below are the result of "stripping of naturally occurring iron and manganese from the soils due to the organic loading of the former landfill."

However, the letter's description of the history and the current state of the site contains significant omissions and contradictions, as shown in the Roux Report:

  • The letter states that the "landfill was closed in the 1980's under the programs and regulations that existed at that time. Different, more stringent standards exist today."

    The letter omits the fact that DEP allowed the Town to use a 6" clay cap that is twice thinner than the 12" of clay required even by the 1980's regulations. As a result, the landfill cap is letting 150 times more water in than was allowed by the original DEP design, and 1500 times more than it is allowed by today's landfill capping standards (pages 2 and 3 of the report).
  • The letter assures that "the monitoring of this landfill will continue for the foreseeable future and that all of the data collected will be carefully considered in the event the Town decides to move forward with any post closure use of the site."

    However, the Roux Report shows that the "Sediment samples are not a component of the ongoing monitoring associated with the landfill, despite the well-documented observations of groundwater and surface water contamination originating from the landfill. Ongoing contamination of the sediments and wetlands in the vicinity of the landfill to levels that poses a risk to human health may be going undetected due to inadequate monitoring for conditions that pose unacceptable risk."
    (page 6 of the report).
  • The letter further states that "sediment sampling was performed for arsenic and a quantitative risk assessment for the presence of the arsenic in the sediments was performed, ... and was shown to pose no significant risk to human health."

    However, according to the Roux report, the risk posed by 1,4-dioxane to human health and the environment is unknown because 1,4-dioxane was not identified as a “contaminant of concern” and was therefore not considered when the risk assessments were conducted for the landfill (page 6 of the report). 
Click here to read the letter.
Click here to read the complete report by Roux Associates.

Previous Actions Related to the defunct Blue Wave Project

  • AREA Group performed a details analysis of the project, searched DEP archives and notified the Town about numerous problems of the substandard and leaching landfill cap.
  • AREA has retained a local attorney who is an expert on zoning and land-use.

  • AREA's attorney sent a letter to BlueWave to inform them that the proposed project is a violation of the recreational use restriction required by the State Capping Grant, and is therefore illegal. Click here to read the letter.

  • AREA Group's attorney filed a civil lawsuit against the Town in the Hampshire Superior Court. The lawsuit charges the town with violating an agreement with the state that restricts the use of the landfill to active or passive recreation.

    Click here for more information about the lawsuit.
  • Court summons were served to the Town officials by the Office of the Sheriff. The Town is required to respond to the Complaint within 20 days. Click here for more information.

  • The Town has responded with its Answer, admitting the factual information in the cited documents, while asking the plaintiffs to prove that they are abutters, as well as every other similar minor detail not explicitly listed in the paper documents. Click here for more information.

  • There have been a lot of activity between the attorneys, but according to the Massachusetts Superior Court Rule 9A that defines procedures for serving and filing motions, the documents are filed with the court as a single package only after the attorneys collect all related papers: motions and cross-motions, opposition to the motions, requests for hearing, etc. etc. Each back-and-forth step takes from 10 to 21 days. The documents become final only after they are filed with the court, at which time the information will be posted on the website.

  • The Town obtained a one-week extension for the August 15th deadline to file court papers related to the legal exchange between the attorneys.


AREA Group Lawsuit

On June 7th, 2011, the AREA Group's attorney filed a civil lawsuit against the Town in the Hampshire Superior Court.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 13 residents under the "10 taxpayers action" Massachusetts law that enables 10 taxpayers to enforce a state law. The lawsuit charges the town with violating an agreement with the state that restricts the use of the landfill to active or passive recreation.

The lawsuit also alleges that:

  • The "Grant Agreement for a Landfill Capping Grant" between the State and Town of Amherst required the Town to record a Deed Restriction for active or passive recreational use of the Old Amherst Landfill.

  • Public funds provided for in the Grant Agreement were paid to the Town of Amherst. The Town has not recorded any deed restrictions required by the Grant Agreement.

  • The Old Landfill is a public park used for active or passive recreation by the plaintiffs.

  • The site is a habitat of the Grasshopper Sparrow, which is classified as a "Threatened species" in Massachusetts. The Grasshopper Sparrow is known to nest in less then 20 sites in Massachusetts.

  • Construction and operation on the landfill of "a solar array for electric power generation and distribution" is not any kind of recreational use.

  • Construction and operation on the landfill of "a solar array for electric power generation and distribution" will destroy habitat appropriate for the Grasshopper Sparrow.

  • The Town, acting by and through its employees, has represented that the landfill was restricted to recreational use.

  • The municipal defendants are attempting to take advantage of their own lack of compliance with the Grant Agreement by taking the position that use of the landfill is not restricted because they did not record a deed restriction for the recreational use of the site.

The lawsuit asks the Court to stop the project and to restrain municipal defendants from expending funds or incurring obligations related to the installation and operation of "a solar array for electric power generation and distribution", and from constructing or authorizing or allowing the construction of such an array on the landfill.

Court Summons

Court summons were served to the following Town officials by the Office of the Sheriff on June 15th, 2011:

  • Town Manager
  • Select Board Members
  • Town Comptroller
  • Town Treasurer
  • Town Clerk
The Town is required to provide an answer within 20 days after the service of the summons to avoid the default judgment against the Town.

Town's Answer

On July 12th, The Town has finally responded to the Complaint filed with the court. The Town admitted the majority of the factual information, including the fact that it was required by the Landfill Capping Grant to file the Deed Restriction. The Town claimed it has no information on a few points and denied a few points (see detailed information below if interested).

The Town used most of its allowed 20 day response time period to file the Answer and asked the plaintiffs to prove even the most obvious facts, such as that the odd properties on the Tanglewood Rd. are abutting the Landfill. This presents an unfortunate delay to a speedy resolution of the case.

Contrary to the claims posted on the Town's website, the Town did not file the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but filed the Answer to enter legal proceeding. Click here to see the posting on the Town's website.

A recent newspaper article on the subject mentions that the group's attorney is preparing a motion for a summary judgment for a speedy resolution of the case. Click here to read the article.

Additional Information on the Town's Answer

The Town claimed that "the Defendants are without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth" of the following statements and "calls upon the Plaintiffs to prove the same":
  • that "the plaintiffs are natural persons" with the addresses listed in the complaint

  • that "Plaintiffs are ten or more taxpaying residents of the Town of Amherst"

  • that "properties of these plaintiffs with odd numbered addresses on Tanglewood Road abut the Landfill"

  • that "the grasshopper sparrow is known to nest at fewer than 20 sites in Massachusetts"

  • that "the grasshopper sparrow more likely than not nests on the landfill"

    [The site is listed as Priority Habitat on the state's GIS website. "Priority habitat" means that the bird is observed and documented on the site for 25 years.]

  •   that "Plaintiffs use the Landfill for active recreational use, passive recreational use, or both"

  •  that "Plaintiffs use the Landfill as a park"

The Town denied the following allegations:
  • that "the Town, acting by and through its employees, has represented that the Landfill was restricted to recreational use"

  • that "construction on the Landfill of "a solar array for electric generation and distribution" will destroy habitat appropriate for the grasshopper sparrow.

  • that "the municipal defendants are attempting to take advantage of their own lack of compliance with the Grant Agreement".

    [The Town did agree in its Answer that the Town was required to record the deed restriction, failed to do so, and took the position that the absence of the deed restriction as means the site use is not restricted. The Town disagrees only with the allegation that this represents "taking advantage of their own lack of compliance".

The Town also stated that the Landfill site was not given to the town as a public park, and that no power purchase or lease agreements with BlueWave have been signed.

The lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice due to Blue  Wave canceling the project. Being dismissed without prejudice means that a new lawsuit on the same subject may be brought.