Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee: “Why Aquifers and Landfills Don’t Mix”

The Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee (BAPAC) is “a coalition of four communities: Westfield, Holyoke, Easthampton and Southampton—and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), which work together to protect the Barnes Aquifer, an important regional groundwater resource.” The following flyer was circulated at yesterday’s mayoral debate in Northampton:

We also present this selection from the 9/1/09 minutes of BAPAC, which indicate a desire not only to oppose the expansion of the Northampton regional landfill but also to remove the waste from the older unlined portion of the landfill.


DATE: 9/1/09

LOCATION: Easthampton Municipal Offices, Easthampton


J. Barrett, Holyoke
A. Zoeller, Holyoke
J. Burkott, Holyoke
K. Taylor, Westfield
X W. Darling, Westfield
C. Seklecki, Easthampton
T. Newton, Easthampton
X R. Newton, Easthampton
X S. Beckley, Easthampton
X M. Czerwiec, Easthampton
J. Slattery, Southampton
X A. Capra, PVPC
X Mark Girard, Southampton

Others Present: Buttrick, Easthampton Aquifer Committee; Mark Reed, Heritage Survey

Northampton Landfill Expansion
The proposed expansion of the Northampton Landfill has generated great public debate. BAPAC
has remained somewhat on the fringe of this debate with the noted exception of Bob Newton’s
presentation of his GIS-based model of the Barnes Aquifer to the City of Northampton, MA
DEP, and other stakeholders. Since BAPAC’s last meeting, the City Council has been acting as
the judicial board identified to determine the outcome of the Special Permit. As such, the City
Council is unable to discuss the landfill expansion with its constituents outside of council
meetings. This situation has inspired opponents of the landfill to seek a ballot question at the
upcoming election about whether or not people support expansion of the landfill over the Barnes
Aquifer. The status of the ballot question is unclear at this point. Anne Capra was contacted by
one of the organizers of this initiative who asked for assistance in phrasing the question but was
only able to recommend that no matter how the question is phrased, education regarding the
question needs to be performed beforehand.

Therefore, Anne Capra recommended that BAPAC issue a formal position regarding the landfill
expansion. BAPAC has already commented in opposition to the landfill expansion under the
MEPA EIR. BAPAC will develop a position paper stating the following:

If a landfill did not currently exist over the Barnes Aquifer, under no circumstances
would we consider locating one there. The current landfill has already caused
contamination to Hannum Brook and surrounding private wells. BAPAC believes that the
oldest, unlined cell of the landfill is the likely source of the contamination. Although the
liner technology proposed for the expansion is considered “state of the art”, it will
inevitably fail someday, causing contamination of a public drinking water supply. When
the liner fails, it will likely be long after those in a position today to make this decision
are living; but, it will fail. Therefore, BAPAC does not support the expansion of the
Northampton Landfill over the Zone II recharge area of the Barnes Aquifer. BAPAC also
recommends that the City begin to remediate the existing contamination by removing the
waste from the unlined cell. Global warming forecasts for the Northeast indicate that
precipitation will increase in the region, potentially increasing groundwater levels,
creating greater opportunity for migration of contaminants from the unlined cell to the
surrounding environment.
Stuart Beckley will begin drafting the position paper and circulate to the rest of the committee
for comment. BAPAC would like to issue the paper as soon as possible. Anne will investigate
any upcoming opportunity for BAPAC to comment on the Special Permit, MEPA filings, or any

See also:

Video: City Council Meeting of 10/15/09; Odgers Challenges Accuracy of Mayor’s Campaign Website
“[On] the mayor’s website, in her issues column, it states about the landfill expansion… ‘We have studied the air and ground water issues and found there to be no risk.’ This is also a problem I have because at the recent debate…the panel person also stated that there’s no risks for the expansion…

“The Massachusetts Department of Public Health stated..from July 9th of 2009, that they cannot currently conclude whether breathing outdoor air in the neighborhoods surrounding the Northampton sanitary landfill could result in health effects. ‘The information we need to make a decision is not available. We are working with the City of Northampton and [the] Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to gather the needed information.’

“In order to reach a conclusion they need outdoor monitoring data from the neighborhoods surrounding the landfill collected for over 24-hour periods of time. In the past, the only time that they would do air monitoring…is they would do what’s called like ‘air grabs’, so they would pick certain times of the day and they would measure the air. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health says that’s not good enough. We need 24-hour monitoring. So to say that there [are] absolutely no health risks is inaccurate at best. And unfortunately, what I feel it is, is politics as usual… If you repeat a lie enough, people start to believe it…”

Valley Advocate: “MDPH Admonishes Northampton” (10/16/08)
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, swamped with calls from concerned Valley residents, has warned the City of Northampton against trumpeting a recent MDPH study as evidence that the city’s landfill poses no threat to public health…

Video: Department of Public Health Presents Landfill Study

Water Not Waste Achieves Ballot Question Signature Goal (9/15/09)
It is official that we collected the required number of registered voter’s signatures and our question WILL be on the November 3rd ballot!

The question reads:

                             “Shall the City of Northampton expand the Northampton landfill over the Barnes Aquifer?”  

Video: Special Meeting of the Board of Public Works and the City Council, 8/21/09; Landfill Ballot Question No. 2
Northampton’s 34% recycling rate lags that of many nearby communities. By operating a landfill, the city has an incentive to tip more tons of waste, not reduce them… The claim that there will be “no new environmental risk for the city” seems scientifically impossible. As noted at Zero Waste America, “even the best liner and leachate collection system will ultimately fail due to natural deterioration.” It might be plausible to claim the environmental risk from landfill expansion is small, but it’s not zero.

Key Portions of the Solid Waste Management Alternatives Study
A critical element missing from the study is an estimate of the value of Barnes Aquifer water at risk from contamination due to landfill expansion. Neither the words “Barnes” nor “Aquifer” appear anywhere in the study.

Paradise City Forum: Landfill and Aquifer