The Hamilton Landfill Redevelopment Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend passage of an article at Town Meeting that would allow the town to cap the town's old landfill permanently.
From there, the committee is working on a plan to begin redeveloping the site into something that would produce revenue for the town.
The committee was optimistic that new uses for the old landfill – possibly a large solar powered generation farm and an organic anaerobic digestor – could generate enough money to pay off the debt over the next 15 to 20 years.
The landfill site, located off Chebacco Road near the Manchester-by-the-Sea townline, is 48 acres in size, with the former landfill comprising about 12 acres.
The town, like many in the state, is being pressed by the state Department of Environmental Protection to cap the landfill. Currently Hamilton is in “technical default” with DEP on its agreement to cap the landfill. But Ed Walsh, a committee member who has been talking with DEP officials, and Town Administrator Michael Lombardo said DEP appears willing to forestall fining the town as long as the agency sees progress by the town.
Failure to approve the bonds this year could signal to DEP that Hamilton is not serious about capping its landfill, committee members and town officials said.
The DEP fines could be $3,000 or more a day, Walsh said.
“We are going to have to cap the landfill,” Lombardo said. “We could wait a year, but what would that gain us?” Lombardo said. “It is not pretty when they (DEP) hammer down on you.”
The committee expects opposition at Town Meeting on May 14 to the $2 million request, which would also have to be approved in an debt exclusion override election at the polls. Members said Enough Is Enough organization members might object to borrowing such a large amount of money. The Save Our Schools organization might oppose it because its members may fear that the cost of the landfill could take away funding from the schools, several committee members said.
The capping project would take two to three years, Lombardo said. The engineering work on the cap would require about a year.
The committee spent much of Tuesday's meeting talking about the future of the site. Constellation Energy has made a preliminary presentation to the town that it might use six acres to build a 1.5 megawatt solar generation farm at the site. The solar panels might produce enough electricity to return $135,000 to the town, committee chairman Betsy Spang said.
Walsh and Selectman Marc Johnson said that would be about the amount needed to service the $2 million debt to pay for capping of the landfill.
Jack Lawrence, a committee member, also suggested a possible use for the site might be an organic anaerobic generator that converts organic waste material within a sealed reservoir to a biogas.
Lombardo said he is already working on that possible use and has applied for a grant to do a feasibility study on that use. DEP seems very interested in organic recycling opportunities, Lombardo said.
Last March, town officials asked developers if there was an interest in reusing the property, possibly as a business office park. The town liked that use because asphalt parking lots make good capping material, Johnson said. But no developer expressed an interest, so the town started looking for alternative uses for the site.
Before any new use can be approved, the landfill has to be capped, Spang said.
The town continues monitoring and sampling the landfill, which stopped receiving trash from Hamilton and Wenham in 1983.