Integrity of the Landfill Cap
Current Condition of the Landfill Cap
landfill cap has been neglected,
causing its deterioration well below the original DEP Permit
specifications and is leaking 150
times more than the maximum amount allowed by the Closure Permit.
a result, large amounts of water are
through the clay layer (cap) that
was supposed to be impermeable. This
generates a large amount of leachate
- 940 gallons/acre/day - which leaks into the
groundwater and pollutes the surrounding wetlands.
wetlands of the Hop Brook Drive
(located just 100 yards away from the Lawrence Swamp Water Protection
Area for the Town's drinking water
wells) and Gull Pond
(located off the Old Farm Road) have concentrations of lead and cyanide that exceed WQC standards, arsenic that exceeds MassDEP GW-1
standards, as well as mercury,
cadmium and arsenic that exceed SSC sediment
samples guidelines. The GW-3 standards that addresses danger to aquatic
life was also exceeded according to the 2007 DEP report.
planned regrading does not address
the condition of the clay cap: it simply adds more soil on top.
The cap already has 24 inches of soil on top of it, and adding more
will not restore impermeability of the clay layer. Placing thousand
of equipment on top of the landfill not only accelerate deterioration
of the cap, but will also make it impossible to address and fix the
are required to prevent further deterioration of the cap and irreversible damage to the environment.
Click here for more information and
the DEP documents.
Problems with the DEP
Risk Assessment: Is It Really Safe?
Amherst old landfill has a deteriorated cap that does not prevent precipitation from entering into the landfill and leaching out contaminants which pollute surrounding wetlands. Levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury in the surrounding wetlands reached a degree that triggered a mandatory risk assessment. The risk assessment done by DEP concluded that “there is no significant risk to human health”. However, DEP ignored most of the risks associated with increasing levels of contamination.
A Tighe & Bond Final Comprehensive Site Assessment report on Amherst’s old landfill and surrounding areas, states that there is a known risk of harm to the environment due the "Severe Effect Levels" that was never evaluated because evaluation "was not requested in the MADEP letter".
It also states that a known risk to public welfare listed in the report was never evaluated because the landfill is functioning according to specifications (which are, in reality, grossly violated as stated in the Current State of the Cap summary).
Furthermore, it states that a known risk to human health from the maximum detected concentrations of contaminants in the wetlands off the Hop Brook Drive was not evaluated due to the area not being readily accessible. In reality, there is a trail going through this wetland that connects the Hop Brook Dr. with the bike path. This trail is used for hiking by area residents without any knowledge of the risks.
The report states that the groundwater in the most affected area
wetlands off the Hop Brook Dr. is classified as GW-3 standard, but
"evaluation of groundwater exposures
was not within the scope of this
focused risk characterization." These exposures include health hazards
from groundwater percolating into the basements of residential homes
just 200 feet away.
According to the last Ground-Water Management Study on file in the DEP archives, wetlands affected by the contaminated plume are located in the primary aquifer recharge area and will affect the Lawrence Swamp area used for the Town's drinking water if the contamination is allowed to continue. As citizens of the Town, we should request to address the problem before it affects the Town's drinking water supply. The landfill cap integrity should be restored to stop leachate generation before any installation on the landfill is considered. It would be impossible to fix this on-going problem after 20,000 solar panels are installed on top of the landfill.
Click here for detailed information
In the FEDERAL REGISTER Feb. 5, 1981, the EPA first stated its opinion that all landfills will eventually leak. Placing a heavy industrial installation on top of the landfill will accelerate the process. The EPA was referring to lined landfills. The Amherst old landfill is unlined which greatly increases the danger to the Town's drinking water supply.
landfill was not considered safe by DEP for recreational use in 1988
(when the cap was new) and 2004, and conditions there continue to
deteriorate. The 1988
report on the environmental effects of using the Old Amherst Landfill
for recreational activities, done for DEP
by Meta Systems Inc., states that "the present landfill cap
is relatively thin and may be susceptible to serious damage from
routine foot traffic or maintenance activities".
A 2004 letter from Amherst Superintendent of Public Works, Guilford Mooring, to the DEP regarding the Old Amherst Landfill states: "Any active recreation use on the site would eventually require a bathroom/concession/storage facility. This facility would more than likely penetrate the cap or require alteration."
Fast forward to 2011, and this site is now being presented by interested parties as sturdy enough to hold one of the largest solar farms in New England. Installing over 20,000 photovoltaic modules on top of the landfill will make it impossible to address the leakage and perform future maintenance.
Dynamic Wind Load
the cap has some limited capacity for sustaining static loads, the
dynamically changing wind load represents a much bigger problem. Since
each panel is positioned at an angle, it acts as a wing pressed down or
lifted by the wind depending on the wind direction. A 30 sq. ft. panel
will be subjected to up to 2100 lbs
(approx 1 ton) of wind force at the maximum wind speed.
20,000 solar panels
will act as a giant wing. As the wind speed and direction change, it
will repeatedly lift and
release the clay cap which was not designed to sustain such life
load. The clay of the cap is becoming brittle over time, and this
repeated over many years lift-and-release
stress cycle will crack the cap, exposing the Town to a huge
Periodic Regrading and Maintenance
All landfills sink or
subside as the organic trash decays, requiring
periodic regrading and filling fix developing problems and preserve
integrity of the landfill cap. This periodic maintenance will be very
difficult and expensive with thousands solar panels on top of the
A 2004 letter from Amherst Superintendent of Public Works, Guilford Mooring, to the DEP regarding the Old Amherst Landfill recommends that all maintenance work is done "after the ground has frozen slightly to provide extra protection to the existing cap".
It will be impossible to address the current leakage problem with 20,000+ panels installed on
top of the landfill cap.
A regrading that is currently planned by DEP uses incorrect data for its engineering specifications. The regrading plan assumes the thickness of the clay layer (6"-12") which is several times bigger than the Tighe & Bond test data (4"-6"), and even bigger than the thickness used for the original capping or the 1985 DEP Closure Permit (8").
Existing Cap Problems on the Old Landfill
Click here to see images of existing problems.
Legal Implications of the State Landfill
The Town used a State Grant to cover part of the 1988 landfill capping costs. The State Grant stipulated the following Project Eligibility Precondition and Deed Restriction:
"a restrictive covenant imposed on the land on which the landfill to be closed ... limiting future use of such land to active or passive recreational use that will not threaten the public health, the environment, or the integrity of the cap".
The State Grant also required the Town to perform the closure in accordance with the DEP Closure Permit.
The Town agreed to both of the above listed preconditions in the final 1989 Grant Agreement. The 2004 letter from the Town's Superintendent of DPW, Guilford Mooring, reported compliance with the capping requirements, but noted that the first requirement was still not resolved and the Town is "interested in resolving this issue".
Both of the above listed State Grant requirements are not fulfilled:
The use of the landfill for a planned
industrial solar array installation
will be a violation of the State Grant.
According to the DEP documents, the landfill was not capped in accordance with the DEP Closure Permit.
Prior to buying property next to the landfill, numerous residents were assured by Town officials that the site would be used only for recreational purposes as outlined in the State Grant.
Homes would not have been built on this location and children raised in such close proximity to a landfill without reassurances from the town that it was safe and would not be developed for anything other than recreation.
Recently, Mr. Mooring and local newspapers ridiculed the abutter's claims that any such assurances were given. At a meeting with the group in April 2011, Mr. Mooring said that there were no restrictions on the use of the site.
Financial Liabilities and Risks to the Town
It is standard practice to obtain a bond or liability insurance for such projects to protect the Town in case something goes wrong, to guarantee that the town is not liable for the costs of removing or decommissioning the solar installation (or restoring the site) in case of unforeseen circumstances.
The Decommissioning clause on page 26 of
proposal states that no such
decommissioning bond or insurance will
be required, due to the profit from selling the solar panels for
Given that a solar panel's generation capacity decreases over time, and
that the today's technology will be
obsolete in 30 years,
questionable if anybody may want to buy these 30-year-old panels. Would
anybody buy a huge 30-year-old IBM mainframe for reuse today?
statement on page 26 of the proposal clearly places the financial
burden of decommissioning the site on the Town:
"If the system has not been removed within 150 days following the date of discontinued operations, then the Town shall have authority to physically remove the facility and dispose of it at its own discretion."
The proposal also states (page 26) that if a bond or insurance is required, it "would be reflected in a higher electricity cost to the Town".
The proposal bases
its recommendations on its experience with decommissioning past
projects (page 26):
on decommissioning of past projects, it is reasonable to assume that PV modules and inverters
can be sold for re-‐use"
However, there were
no such projects decommissioned in the
state after 30 years of
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources recommendations on the Zoning Bylaw for Large-Scale Solar Photovoltaic Installations state that a bond or liability insurance is required for such projects.
We urge the Town to
research these issues and request an appropriate decommissioning bond
or liability insurance to avoid being exposed to huge financial
Questions about the $30M Financial
Benefit to the Town
The total yearly output of the solar farm
given in the BlueWave's
presentation is 6,000,000 KWH.
This will yield the $420,000 profit per
year using the current retail generation price of 7 cents per KWH (the
for selling to the grid will be even lower):
6,000,000 KWH * $0.07 = $420,000 per year.
This does not add up to $30M over 30
years. However, using the historical 6% annual increase in utility
electricity prices, the total selling
price of all electricity generated by the installation over 30 years
According to BOSCH's
manual, solar panels lose 20% of efficiency over 25 years. If we
factor in this annual 0.45% decrease in efficiency, the value of all
generated electricity over the life of the project will further drop to
According to the BlueWave's
presentation, the town will
receive over $30M in revenues from the deal. This means that all revenue from selling generated
electricity will be used just to pay the Town, which does not cover the cost of the
installation, maintenance, decommissioning and insurance bond.
Since the total revenue of the solar
over 30 years barely covers
the projected financial compensation to the Town, it raises questions
about the investment scheme used for the project's financing:
Inflation-Adjusted Town Revenue Over 30
year = $17M
The $33M figure is not in today's money,
as it does not take into account that all other prices will increase as
well due to inflation.
For the 4% average yearly inflation rate,
the inflation-adjusted value of all Town benefits over 30 years will be
This means that the Town will be getting
an equivalent of $420K in
today's money each year over
30 years if everything goes as planned (not $1M
implied by the BlueWave's
If BlueWave is required to obtain a
customary insurance bond for the
post-closure period, the benefit may be greatly reduced.
Fire Hazard Mitigation
There are reports of
fire hazards created by solar panels. Individual solar
panels are connected together creating a high
voltage line that can exceed 400 direct current (DC) volts. These wires
get worn over time and animals
damage the exterior of the wires, which can cause the wires to
short-circuit creating a fire
hazard. Since solar panels always produce electrical output even when
they are disconnected from the grid, it makes
it more challenging to deal with potential fire.
The methane gas generated by the landfill increases the potential danger. The first page of the BOSCH's Installation and Operation Manual for the proposed c-Si M 60 panels states:
"Solar modules must therefore never be installed near easily flammable materials, gases or vapours."
The whole area of the
landfill will be surrounded by a 6' fence, and it
is not clear from the BlueWave proposal how firefighters will access
the edge of the facility close to the residential homes in case
emergency in that area (there are no fire hydrants on the landfill).
Tall grass near surrounding the
to be controlled to avoid fire hazards and
prevent shadows that would reduce the panels' output. It is not
possible to mow the grass under the panels with the mower. The
Pittsfield installation is using gravel to control the grass. The
grass control issue is not addressed by the BlueWave's proposal.
Environmental Impact on Threatened Species
The Grasshopper Sparrow is listed as threatened by the State of Massachusetts. The Town's regrading proposals contain significant language about preserving its habitat, which is not present in the BlueWave's written proposal for the solar installation.
Click here for more information.
Impact on the Robert Frost Trail
Glint and glare from the solar panels potentially present hazards to the eyes. Glint, a quick flash of light, and glare, a continuous exposure to bright, render human eyes susceptible to injury. Retinal burn and flash blindness may occur. While these hazards are not a problem in most installations, they present a real danger depending on the position of the solar panels relatively to the sun.
With the solar panels
facing south and positioned to the east of the residential area, they
will reflect the sunlight directly into the windows of the residential
homes in the morning hours. Considering the number of the solar panels
that will be installed (20,000+), the effect of the glare could will
overwhelming, with panels acting as a giant mirror. A study on mitigating
the glare must be performed.