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State Won’t Decide on Incinerator Until August at Earliest

Claremont — A decision on whether to issue of permanent five-year operating permit for the Wheelabrator incinerator will wait at least another month, and perhaps longer.

The Air Resources Council of the Department of Environmental Services has scheduled a third day of testimony in the appeal of the proposed permit DES issued last September on the Grissom Lane facility. The next hearing date is August 12 at DES offices on Concord.

Gary Millbury, the Air Permit Programs Manager at DES, said Tuesday that depending when the hearing concludes, the five-member council could deliberate that same day and issue a decision. Any decision can be appealed to the state Supreme Court or to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which also must approve the permit, Millbury added.

DES issued the proposed permit on September 11 and within 30 days, a group of residents living in Claremont and surrounding towns filed an appeal seeking revocation of the permit and requesting a two-year transitional period the would lead to closure of the trash-to-energy incinerator, which has operating since 1987.

Millbury said he could not speak to specific testimony on either side because the hearing has not concluded but did say the two issues that have been the basis for the appeal are dioxin emissions and violations under the previous permit.

“DES is providing testimony on those issues,” said Millbury, who reviewed the draft permit approved by DES.

Katie Lajoie, of Charlestown, a longtime opponent of the incinerator, said the past permit violations involved the burning of baghouse filters bags, which capture ash. In a statement before the first Air Resources Council hearing in June, Lajoie said Wheelabrator never stated that it had burned the filter bags between 1995 and 2010, which she said is a violation of the state hazardous waste rules because the bags are classified as hazardous waste.

“Wheelabrator misrepresented what they were doing at the incinerator, and that is reason to revoke the permit,” Lajoie said.

Wheelabrator, which did not respond to request for comment, had previously acknowledged burning the bags but did so after placing them in two separate bags, clean of ash component, before incinerating them. The company said that at the time it determined there were no hazard characteristics in the bags and therefore no state violations.

However, Wheelabrator began disposing of the bags as hazardous waste after 2010 when it decided to adopt what it said is a more conservative approach after a test on a bag failed to fall within guidelines for lead and cadium levels. Since then the filter bags have been handled as hazardous waste.

A December 2012 letter to Wheelabrator from the DES cites the company for failing to obtain a permit to burn the bags and thus the company had “violated its Solid Waste Facility Permit by burning hazardous waste in the facility boliers.”

Incinerator opponents have also said the plant emits dioxins in excess of allowable limits and is challenging the data DES relied upon to issue the permit. Wheelabrator has responded to those allegations by stating that it has always conformed to strict state and federal emission standards.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.