TURNERS FALLS — A proposed new Department of Public Works building project has been put on hold with news of a $2.4 million cost to capping the town’s old burn dump near the site.
The town was surprised to learn that capping the old burn dump — or creating a barrier between hazardous waste and the environment — would cost as much as it did. In 2004, the town did an estimate on capping the project that came in around $260,000.
Town Planner Walter Ramsey said there are several reasons for the large cost. He said the site was four acres larger than the 2004 estimate indicated. It was originally believed that the site was around six acres, but additional work since then has moved that closer to 10 acres.
Ramsey said regulators haven’t been pressing the town to complete the project, but that the town is under obligation to cap the burn dump and cautioned against further delays.
“It’s one of those things that does not get any cheaper as time goes,” Ramsey said.
He also said regulations for capping the dump have changed in the intervening years. The town also let vegetation grow in that would have to be removed before it could be capped.
Last Thursday, the Department of Public Works Building Planning Committee decided against presenting a warrant requesting money for the project at the upcoming annual town meeting because of the burn dump issue. The site selected for the new building was near the dump and the Judd Wire complex.
“There’s just too many unanswered questions at this point,” Ramsey said to the selectboard Monday night on the planning committee’s decision.
The burn dump cap will also cause issues with a possible solar energy facility by Kearsarge Solar, part of which would have been located on the burn dump.
“This is going to have a ripple effect in several other projects,” Ramsey said.
Currently, Kearsarge is exploring several options, which would allow them to go forward with the majority of the project not located on the dump site, while the town figures out how to handle the capping project.
The Montague Planning Board is holding a public hearing about the Kearsarge project next Tuesday that will likely provide more answers about the direction of that project.
One idea floated on Monday night would be to have Kearsarge pay a reduced lease with the town and have the solar company handle the cost of capping, something the selectboard, Ramsey and Town Administrator Steve Ellis all cautioned as a preliminary but an ideal solution.
“I’m not putting any chickens in that basket yet,” Selectman Michael Nelson said.
The news of the burn dump’s cost was something that was surprising and disappointing to the selectboard.
“$2.4 million is a lot to swallow for a 50-year-old problem,” Selectman Chris Boutwell said.
With the DPW building, the delay gives more time to hammer out details that had given community members pause with the potential $11.5 million project. The planning committee is still going ahead with an open house and public forum in April, something it hopes will help highlight the need for a new building.
Additionally, the committee wants to separate the actual cost of the physical building from soft costs such as site work, construction costs and the cost of adhering to state regulations, to help the town understand why the project costs the amount it does.
Reach Miranda Davis