There is nowhere else Elizabeth Cyran would want to call home then Hardwick, Massachusetts.
“I’ve been around this country and there are some really, really nice towns in other states but in the state of Massachusetts there is nothing like Hardwick,” Cyran said.
She was born and raised in the rural central Massachusetts town. It’s the kind of town without stop lights, where locally-grown food is on the dinner table and everybody knows everybody.
It’s a piece of paradise that old and new residents treasure and will fight to protect.
“We have so many things that are so important in this town that you cannot replicate anywhere else. Once it’s gone or any of this is gone, it will never ever come back,” Cyran said.
Cyran is among a group of residents who believe their way of life will be under threat if a landfill expands and reopens in town.
Last July, local businessmen and Casella Waste Systems proposed reopening a landfill that hasn’t been operational since 2007.
Casella, the owner of the current landfill site, proposed making the existing site five times larger to accommodate 350,000 tons of trash a year.
“It’s a good site. It has the existing infrastructure. It has the ability to expand and provide some needed disposal capacity for Massachusetts,” explained Casella’s director of communications Jeff Weld.
The dump initially opened in the late 1960’s and Cyran grew up just a mile from it. She remembers dumping car batteries and dead pigs in it during the early days.
“We didn’t know back then what we were doing,” she said.
She feared what those items would do to her community and joined residents in the fight to shut the dump down nearly 20 years ago.
“It was a very difficult and bitter battle. The town was very divided and it was actually rather ugly,” said another Hardwick resident Dr. Richard Romano.
When he heard the proposal last summer, he got flashbacks.
“It was Groundhog’s Day. I can’t believe they are back,” he said.
The supporters of the project believe it will be a lifeline for the small town. The project is estimated to generate $2.6 million annually for Hardwick.
“We believe it represents a great opportunity for people there to really experience some significant economic development and benefit from proposed close community agreement that would come along with this resource,” Weld said.
It’s a lucrative offer that supporters believe their small town needs right now. Supporters are pushing for the money to be used to fund an ambulance and new fire truck in town and advertise the funds could be used to decrease property taxes.
“I think the financial benefits are significant and could provide some significant relief to the town,” Weld said.
For others, the potential health and environmental ramifications aren’t worth the money.
“It would absolutely not be worth poisoning our air, our water, our soil, making our street a hazard for people, animals, children,” explained Hardwick resident Lisa Cohen.
Cohen, Cyran and Romano are a part of the group, Hardwick Village for Responsible Growth, that has concerns over the health and environmental impacts of expanding the landfill. They are also concerned about the uptick in truck traffic that goes along with bringing thousands of tons of trash in each week.
“Health effects are huge, environmental effects, pollution, water pollution, noise pollution,” said Hardwick resident Lisa Cohen.
Weld said these concerns are based on fear. Landfills are regulated by state and federal agencies and have to meet certain standards.
“We really pay close attention to is air emissions and air quality. Modern gas collection infrastructure allows us to keep that gas from escaping into the air, to take that gas and potentially turn it into renewable natural gas,” Weld said.
Boston College professor and public health physician Dr. Philip Landrigan has studied the impacts of toxic chemicals on human health.
“Chemicals in drinking water can cause disease here and now,but they can also cause damage to the cells in the human body which increase risk for heart disease, cancer, neurological disease, and other health problems years and decades later,” he said.
Opponents of the Hardwick project said their fear is not just for themselves but millions of other people.
“It’s not just our little town… it’s all of Massachusetts that stands to be at risk,” Cohen said.
The site of the landfill is just miles away from the Quabbin Reservoir that supplies the drinking water for the city of Boston.
“You would be exposing people of all ages, pregnant women, young children, little babies to toxic chemicals that can cause reproductive problems, loss of intelligent, increase their risk for chronic disease. It’s a risk we cannot take,” Landrigan said.
Landrigan said if chemicals from the dump site leak out, even small doses have the potential to impact health.
Weld said the landfill is outside the watershed and will not impact the Quabbin Reservoir.
“These facilities are highly regulated, highly engineered liner systems, air quality controls and monitoring,” Weld said. He explained the dump would be double lined to keep contaminates from leaking out into the ground and water.
Landrigan said even with layers of protection, eventually landfills leak and the chemicals get out.
“Obviously we need landfills. Society generates waste and it has to go somewhere but we have to be intelligent; we have to be smart. We can’t put landfills a mile from the biggest reservoir in Massachusetts that supplies the city of Boston and 40 other cities and towns. It just doesn’t make sense,” Landrigan said.
Hardwick town administrators told 7 Investigates they have not received “a formal application on any landfill extension” and have no comment.
Weld said Casella should have updates on the proposal soon.
Despite the lack of a proposal, the streets of Hardwick are already littered with signs urging residents to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the dump.
Ultimately, the decision will fall with the citizens of Hardwick who will need to approve numerous rezoning measures.
Residents said given what’s at stake they believe there is no time to waste in preparing for those votes.
“It jeopardizes everything. It jeopardizes everything that makes Hardwick special,” Cohen said.
Residents opposing the expansion want the state’s Department of Conservation & Recreation to step in and take Hardwick off the list of potential locations for a regional waste disposal site.