Cumberland officials pursuing solar at old town dump

Cumberland officials pursuing solar at old town dump

The limits of the former Albion Landfill, which Cumberland officials are targeting for future solar development.

CUMBERLAND – Joining a national trend of turning old dumps into modern energy producers, town officials are seeking to prepare the old Albion Landfill for future solar development.

The town operated the “Cumberland Town Dump” off Albion Road from 1954 to 1983. About half of the 52-acre site has been disturbed, and in the 36 years since the landfill along the Blackstone River shut down, the town has not yet fulfilled its legal obligation to properly close and cap it, said Jonathan Stevens, director of planning and community development.

Officials from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management requested permission to walk the site in 2017, offered steps to bring it into compliance by closing it properly. By cleaning it up and capping it according to federal standards, the town would be taking a necessary step toward solar development, said Stevens, who began putting a plan together about a year ago.

“The thinking in Town Hall was, let’s do the right thing, get it documented, own it, fix it,” he said.

Converting the closed landfill into a solar farm could realize “a critical financial offset to the capping and closure costs,” said Stevens. Properly shutting it down is complicated, time-consuming and expensive, he said, but RIDEM could initiate legal proceedings to force action.

“The time has come,” he said.

It is hoped, said Stevens, that an agreement with a solar developer would entirely eliminate the town’s share of the cost for closing the dump.

The RIDEM in 2017 awarded the town a $125,000 grant to hire a private investigator to investigate the site and determine potential parties responsible for the contamination, which could have helped with the costs of this project. After extensive research, it was determined last December that dumping likely happened too long ago to hold anyone accountable today, he said.

Stevens, at a meeting March 20, was set to ask the council to approve increasing the grant award to $150,000, extending it through December 2020, and being reimbursed for some costs. Town planners are preparing bid documents for a remedial action work plan, likely to commence this summer, and are preparing to seek consultants to help secure an optimal partnership with solar farm developers.

The cost of this project will depend on what is found. If levels of contamination are deemed to be low, a possibility, said Stevens, given the fact that compounds break down over time, a simple earth cap might be possible. Otherwise, a multi-layered engineered cap might be required.

“Even the most exotic and complicated compounds break down over a number of years,” he said.

The recent emergence of commercially viable solar farms on old landfills has come at a fortuitous time for Cumberland, said Stevens. There are such facilities in East Providence, North Providence, South Kingstown and Coventry, among others.

About 26 acres of the 52-acre site is occupied by what’s known as an unlined municipal landfill.

The property is bordered along the north by a 68-acre parcel owned by the Cumberland Water Department and private homes off Farm Drive and Secluded Court, to the east and west by privately owned and state-owned undeveloped land, and to the south by the Blackstone River and two parcels totaling 28 acres owned by Joseph Rossetti. There are two Exxon Mobil transmission pipes running the length of the property.

The old dump accepted household, industrial, institutional and commercial waste. The Mossberg/Hubbard Pressed Steel Company disposed of liquid plating waste at the Albion Landfill starting in 1971, depositing about 6,000 gallons per day, and that amount increased to about 11,000 gallons daily by 1980. Mossberg ceased this activity in 1983, states a summary from Stevens. The only documented area of disposal was into a pit measuring 20 feet wide, by 20 feet long, and three feet deep, located to the northeast of the site entrance.

Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corporation also dumped substantial amounts of waste before 1978, and as of that year was depositing about 7,500 yards of fiberglass waste annually.

“An unfortunate legacy of that time are a number of polluted sites that now require expensive cleanups,” said Stevens in his summary. “In fact, a nearby disposal site in Cumberland, now known as the J.M. Mills/Peterson Puritan Superfund site, is 500 acres and will cost the responsible parties as much as $40 million to remediate.”

In 1978, Owens-Corning closed its lab facility at the Ashton Mill, and all of its chemical waste was documented to be disposed of at the landfill site.

In the years since the landfill closed, it has been used as open space, with the town occasionally responding to nuisance complaints for illegal dumping, ATV use and trespassing.

RIDEM has notified the town a number of times over the years that it’s in violation of state and federal regulations.

Various programs and grants may be available to help pay for the project, said Stevens.

The good news about any contamination here is that it’s not impacting drinking water, said Stevens, as it’s migrating toward the Blackstone River.

The remediation and design plan is expected to take about six months to a year to complete.

Town ordinance prohibits deforestation for such a project, making this cleared site ideal, said Stevens. Town restrictions currently limit solar array coverage to 20 percent of a site, but there’s a proposal coming up for the council’s consideration to expand that to 80 percent coverage in general industrial zones on properties covering more than 10 acres, which could open up other sites in town.