East Boston As Deer Island?

John Vitagliano, Former Boston Transportation Commissioner

Two years ago I participated with my Winthrop neighbors in vigorously opposing a proposal by the MWRA to utilize the Deer Island Treatment Plant as a major facility to process vast amounts of discarded food wastes (garbage) and other waste materials from the entire city of Boston and elsewhere to comply with a newly enacted state law prohibiting the disposal of commercial and institutional food wastes into landfills. The proposal involved the use of anaerobic digestion to convert the waste products into energy to augment the Deer Island power plant’s requirements.

While the concept of creating power from waste products certainly is a worthwhile public policy objective the siting of such facilities is critically important in order to protect the environmental rights and quality of life of selected facility sites. Winthrop’s strenuous opposition to the Deer Island anaerobic digestion plan was based on two environmental concerns- facility odors and excessive heavy truck traffic which have long been associated with the existing Deer Island treatment plant. The food waste proposal would have increased existing heavy truck traffic, which impacts East Boston and Winthrop, by 46 trucks per week. After intensive community based opposition the MWRA put its Deer Island food waste plan on indefinite hold, where it remains today.

In the meantime a nearly identical proposal has surfaced that would subject East Boston to the same environmental and safety impacts as those associated with the Deer island plan; the proposal by Citywide Organics Recycling LLC to transform the former 7 acre Hess site on the Chelsea Creek into a major Deer Island- like anaerobic digestion facility that would process over 300 tons per day of discarded food wastes, 5,000 tons per year of yard waste, and other organics from throughout the City of Boston. This anaerobic process would produce significant quantities of fertilizer, estimated at 8 tons per day, and compost products, all of which would then have to be transported off-site to their respective distributors. Certain levels of electric power would also be developed.

Like the Deer Island proposal there are two fundamental environmental and safety issues at stake. Of course the question of objectionable odors is a paramount neighborhood concern of any proposal involving processing vast amounts of waste products into something else, as evidenced by the Deer Island treatment plant which, to the MWRA’s credit, utilizes the best available odor reduction technology and yet frequently is often the source of strong, objectionable odors in the facility’s adjacent neighborhoods. It would be completely implausible to believe that a large anaerobic digesting facility, processing over 300 daily tons of rotting food waste and 5,000 yearly tons of yard waste and creating 8 daily tons of fertilizer on-site, would fail to generate noticeable levels of objectionable odors, particularly during summer season.

The other major environmental/safety concern associated with the Citywide food waste proposal is that of transporting the huge amounts of products and materials required to and from the facility. Their proposal claims that the facility will operate six days per week, 10 hours per weekday, and less on Saturday. While the proposal further claims that ships or barges will deliver up to 334 daily tons of food waste to the facility, there will still be a need for an additional ten heavy food waste trucks per day, each carrying about 8,000 gallons of food waste, based on the Deer Island model. However, it is highly doubtful that such a large marine based drop off-pick up citywide food waste delivery system could be implemented in the foreseeable future so that the anaerobic digestion plant would generate far more than ten daily heavy trucks per day in a densely populated residential neighborhood. Incidentally the MWRA has not been able to produce a feasible marine based food waste delivery system for Deer Island even though there has been a full pier in place for decades.

Winthrop finally won its battle with the Deer Island anaerobic digester plan because our Representative, Speaker Robert DeLeo, told the MWRA in no uncertain terms: “The bottom line is this, we don’t want any more trucks going through our town. We have enough already. Let’s put this proposal on hold until we can find a solution that works for all of us.” Surely the same holds for East Boston.

East Boston has long been singled out to serve many public programs (Logan Airport, Sumner/Callahan Tunnels, Route 1, etc), usually to its detriment. Enough is enough.

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