Somerville taking out the trash at Brickbottom

Somerville taking out the trash at Brickbottom

Somerville — With its large bay to accommodate trash trucks, the transfer station at the edge of Brickbottom seems larger than life, built for giants.

Now Somerville is getting ready to outgrow the trash transfer station, sacrificing the nearly $1 million of revenue for better living conditions.

Sometime this year, Mayor Joe Curtatone is planning to give notice for Waste Management to clear out within 12 months, reversing what he said was “one of the worst decisions” Somerville ever made – clearing a residential neighborhood for a Inner Belt highway that was never built.

“We’re the most densely populated city in New England,” said Curtatone, in a phone interview on Monday. “We just don’t have the land area.”

Waste Management leases the space from the city and the rent combined with other payments add up to $800,000 to $900,000 annual payments from the trash hauler to Somerville, according to Waste Management spokesman Jim Nocella.

The parting is amicable from both sides. Curtatone said the company has been cooperative, and Nocella said he understands the mayor has a vision for the neighborhood that an outmoded transfer station does not figure into.

The roughly five-story building was built in 1950 as the city’s incinerator, according to Curtatone and assessors’ records. Sometime after the passage of the federal Clean Air Act, in 1990, Michael Capuano, who was then mayor, converted it into a transfer station.

Around that time, the city outsourced its trash hauling, and now F.W. Russel takes drops its trash at the station. About 500 tons of garbage passes through the station from Somerville, Cambridge, Boston and commercial properties, said Nocella. From there, it goes to incinerators or landfills, mostly in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Though, Curtatone has wanted to push the transfer station out since taking office seven years ago, the city hasn’t been on stable enough financial footing to lose the revenue.

Curtatone said he would soon give Waste Management the one-year notice required by the lease so that the company will leave the city-owned property. Then the site would be open for future municipal uses.

Police headquarters is currently housed in an aging bus station outside of Union Square that has been blamed for respiratory problems of the police and firefighters who work there. Curtatone said it’s “a possibility” that the police headquarters could be housed at the old incinerator. The city has also been looking for a new fire headquarters, because the Reilly-Brickley Central Station is too house truck repairs.

However, the incinerator site has its own history of environmental problems. Between 1996 and 2001, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has documented four incidents of spilled hazardous chemicals, including oil and chlorine.

An electronic hawk sound chirps through the night from a building nearby the transfer station to drive away the pigeons and seagulls attracted by the scraps of food in the trash. Curtatone said his mother can hear that chirping from her house on Prospect Hill, but that’s just one of the detriments of the station.

“It adds to blight… It’s trash. You have rodents, lots of pigeons at anytime, the odor…” Curtatone said. The trash trucks can sometimes cause traffic jam, and with planning underway to possibly turn the McGrath Highway into a boulevard, it is an ugly welcome sign to the city, Curtatone said.

Nocella said that while Waste Management would be happy to stay there, the company is interested in developing larger, more sustainable sites and providing recycling facilities.

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