I first saw Bob Moriarity at the last City Council meeting, when a lot of us turned out for the public comment session to vent our views about the landfill. Sticking to three minutes when you are facing the Mayor and her gavel is not easy. I sensed that Bob, who has worked in the waste disposal business for many years and now lives near the landfill, was just starting to warm up when he had to shut down. He was still talking as he was headed for the door.
A couple days ago, I arranged to meet him at the Blue Bonnet for lunch. He told me that he and his wife, Nancy, live on Route 66 and that their back lot line adjoins the dump. Six years ago, when he married Nancy, who owned the house, he was also married to the dump as an issue. “But, we have the woods between us and the landfill, unlike the poor souls that live next to it.”
His wife wanted to sell the house and land when she retired this year and move to the Cape house that Bob owns, but fate stepped in. Nancy's house has been on the market for six months, but she's had no offers.
“I mean, usually you get the low-ballers,” Bob said. “The guys who aren’t really interested in buying your house but want to see how desperate you are by offering some outlandish amount. But no, not a nibble.”It seems that there is a chill on property transactions in the Glendale road area.
Bob looks cheerful in the photo here, but don’t try to shake his hand. He did something to his right arm, perhaps, at the job where he was de-leading a bridge beam. Bob has a fair amount of experience on the front lines of landfill management and nuclear reactor work. He’s one of the guys in coveralls and a respirator doing HazMat work. This fall, he plans to be working at Seabrook. He helped clean up a private landfill gone bad up in Wendell. Tons of highly toxic material from Boston’s Big Dig are buried there. It got so bad, he told me, that the Department of Environmental Protection took it over, and the owner left the country to escape liability and maybe, jail time. According to Bob, the ex-owner now has an Arab name, married an Arab woman, and lives in Bahrain. Later, the people who worked at the landfill had to wear respirators.
So, what did Bob say? He’s not critical of the people running our landfill. He said, though, that people run landfills, not robots, and with humans there is a learning curve. There have been screw-ups. Humans try to hide their mistakes. Mistakes have been made, and when your city government starts shredding documents, he wonders, what is going on. There will be three areas in our landfill, past, present and future. He says it’s the first landfill that is the real problem. It was a gravel pit before it was a landfill. He says that there is MEK there, and the city knows it and the DEP knows it. Methyl ethyl ketone was the universal cleaning solvent up until the 1970s. It is terrifically volatile and dangerous: It dissolves shoes, and does in your liver. When I was in the Navy we used it by the barrel to clean parts. So did machine shops, so did shops like Multi-Color Graphics, which was in downtown Florence. Without a solid clay underlayment, chemicals will migrate in a so-called plume. Bob has a hunch there is a plume headed toward Easthampton, and a well on his land would come up clean.
But no one knows what is going on, and with homes being bought up by the city, existing homes are not moving. He says the present landfill is well designed, and the DEP, to its credit, did a good job by testing the clay layer under the landfill. Clay is the real impermeable barrier, not the 60 mil polyethelene, which can be punctured.
He says private landfills are well regulated. There is a good strong institutional barrier between the state and the private guys. But between the DEP and a city running a regional landfill? He doubts that a private operator like Waste Management would have ever got a waiver to build a dump over the Barnes aquifer. What worries him is what will happen if the city goes ahead with its plan and screws up and the DEP takes over, like they did in Wendell. DEP dumps can take a lot of stuff like mercury-tainted waste that private dumps can’t.
After talking to him, and to people out at the recycling station where I was gathering signatures Saturday morning, I think the tragedy of this mess is that everyone has good intentions. The landfill has been a phenomenal cash cow for the city, but the times they are changing. People have lawyers and the Enterprise fund has to be shrinking. The DPW and City Hall is trying to keep costs down for the average person. But, they are not facing the fact that Northampton is changing, and the landfill is wearing out its welcome in the western part of the city. Its landfill is now in an area where expensive homes are being built. Its new neighbors are not the old working people, the Hampsters who put up with the smells and the noise. It is time to be conservative, and get out of the landfill business when the present area is full.