From: Mark Reynolds, The Providence Journal, R.I.
Published February 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Landfill's Effect on Water Supply a Concern

Feb. 1—FALL RIVER — State environmental officials overlooked the vulnerability of Fall River's water supply when they approved the expansion of a 110-acre landfill, city leaders asserted yesterday.

Contamination from the dump could seep into underground aquifers through cracks in the subterranean bedrock around the landfill, according to Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr.

In issuing the permit last week, officials from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection suggested that they had seen no evidence of such a threat, Lambert said.

"We very strongly disagree," Lambert said. "We submitted that evidence. We collected it. We presented it well ... "

The studies commissioned by the city will bolster Fall River's appeal of the permit decision in Superior Court, officials said.

The city presented testimony from 12 scientists; two of whom are preeminent experts on aquifers, the municipality's lawyer, Thomas F. McGuire, said.

The state never responded to evidence that an expansion of the dump's operations could contaminate drinking water, he said.

"They simply ignored the study that the city conducted over six months," McGuire said, "and it's really unconscionable."

The ruling is a significant setback for the city's campaign to close the private landfill owned and operated by Browning-Ferris Industries.

Last year, the city's Board of Health tried to shut down the dump by refusing to sign off on the expansion plan.

A Superior Court judge overruled that decision. The issue awaits the decision of an appeals court.

Yesterday, Lambert and other officials promised to bring DEP's decision, which is a separate matter, before a Superior Court judge.

"I'm glad this is being appealed," said City Councilor Pat Casey. "I think the future of our city depends on our water, and doing everything we can do to protect our water is certainly the right thing."

BFI's lawywer did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Lambert announced that the city had reached an $11.3 million settlement with BFI.

The company owes the city "host fees" for the large amount of trash that it disposed at the landfill.

It has agreed to pay $8 million by May 2 and the remaining $3.3 million during the fiscal year that starts July 1, Lambert said.

He said he would ask the City Council to save a portion of the money to pay for the city's efforts to monitor activity at the dump.

He argued that the remainder of the money should be used to reduce future tax hikes.

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