Beware of cap at GEMS landfill, panel told
By MEG HUELSMAN Courier-Post Staff April 29, 2008

GLOUCESTER TWP. A representative from the Environmental Protection Agency said he agreed with a plan to install a solar field atop a landfill here, but warned of potential legal and environmental problems from penetrating the protective cover atop the polluted pit.


"The biggest question is about the cap (atop GEMS Landfill)," EPA project manager Brian Quinn said at Monday night's council meeting. "As far as we're concerned, it's a good plan but we just have to make sure that the cap is not penetrated."

A renewable energy consultant from Washington, D.C. -- Dale Barnhard of MIUS LLC -- was expected to outline a $40 million plan to install a series of solar panels at the landfill. But his presentation was postponed due to severe weather.

Quinn and others at the meeting discussed possible obstacles at the landfill, which was designated a Superfund site in the 1980s.

First, the landfill holds unknown chemicals and materials that were dumped over decades. If the protective cap covering the pit were damaged, Quinn noted, rainwater could enter the landfill and potentially contaminate the ground water.

Second, as a result of a 1989 court-ordered settlement, five trustees -- one of which is the township -- must vote to approve the installation of solar panels or an alternative energy project atop the landfill.

The trustees control a fund created to maintain and repair the cap and the water treatment system under direction from the EPA. In 2015, the trust will transfer to the jurisdiction of the state Department of Environmental Protection, Quinn said.

Former Councilman Gene Lawrence, who has taken the lead on a local solar subcommittee, also pointed to potential legal snags with a needed Request for Proposals. The RFP would have to be drafted and posted because the project would entail leasing township property to a private entity.

In addition to the logistical issues, time is a major factor. The state Board of Public Utilities once distributed rebates to successful solar energy projects.

But at the end of the year, the board anticipates switching to a market-based system that would sell Solar Renewable Energy Credits to electricity plants that need to meet state renewable energy standards.

"More than 20 companies have contacted me in the last week," Lawrence said of the growing interest. "But we have to get the ball rolling, we can't let this opportunity pass us by."

Sean Angelini of Ray Angelini Inc., a contractor and engineering firm based in Washington Township, presented a proposal earlier this month to install a different type of solar array on the landfill.

A third firm from Rhode Island is expected to make a presentation to council on May 5, Council President Glen Bianchini said.

Reach Meg Huelsman at (856) 251-3345 or mhuelsman@courierpostonline.com