Town Meeting voters will be asked to provide $7.4 million this spring to recap the Ledge Road landfill in its entirety, after already having approved nearly $3 million over the last decade for the project.
The roughly 26-acre parcel, part of which is home to the Deyermond Field Little League complex, was closed as a town dump in 1973.
Wetland sediment samples between the landfill and Fish Brook Watershed — a town drinking water source — now contain arsenic levels that are nine million times higher than the national standard for drinking water, according to Andover's Public Works Director Jack Petkus. The town drinking water itself is fine. The landfill area was the site of open-pit trash burning during the 1920s through 1950s.
"(That's) the elephant in the room," said Petkus. "You have no choice. The landfill has to be properly capped and closed."
Approval of Article 31 by a two-third majority at Town Meeting would allow Andover to fully fund the state-mandated landfill recapping project through a low-interest State Revolving Fund loan, which the town manager says would save Andover some money.
"That's our plan," said Buzz Stapczynski. "It's our expectation the $7 million plus the appropriations we've had in the past will result in closure. We'll close it as they require. We think it's $7 million, our best estimate at the moment."
The Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and Health Department recommend approval of Article 31.
The town's updated landfill recapping plan is going through the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's approval process. Stapczynski said the state is requiring that the town recap the landfill all at once, as opposed to the multi-phased approach supported by Andover consultants up until the fall of 2007.
"The state knows it's the right thing to do, that's why they're underwriting it with this discounted loan program," said Stapczynski. "It's the right thing to do and it's up to us to do it."
At half the interest rate the town would normally pay for borrowing, Petkus said the state's revolving fund loan would save Andover taxpayers more than $1 million over the life of the 20-year bond. Construction cost savings also should be realized by doing everything at once, he said.
"There's going to be savings there and it gets it done in one fell swoop," said Petkus.
"We're going to have to do it anyway, and if we do it with town funds the financial impact is immediate," said Petkus. "This gives you a chance to put it off a few years."
The financial impact of the landfill recapping project under the State Revolving Fund loan would begin a year after construction is completed, which Petkus estimated would be in the summer of 2011.
Peak debt service to the town would be $451,000 in fiscal 2011, or $33 on the average residential tax bill.
The potential remains for the town to buy land adjacent to the landfill area that has been contaminated by arsenic as part of the landfill recapping project. This includes a nearby farm owned by Chandler Road resident Robert Park Sr. and open space owned by the Andover Village Improvement Society.
"We've had, off and on over 10-plus years, talks with AVIS about exchanging property," said Stapczynski. "It's been one of those items that's on the table."
Some of the highest arsenic levels were found on Park's more than 60-acre property, located near Fish Brook. Fish Brook feeds into Haggetts Pond, where the town water treatment plant gets its water.
At 4,500 parts per million, Petkus called the arsenic concentrations found near the landfill "extremely high."
The national drinking water standard for arsenic is 10 parts per billion, he said.
"It's not staying in the water, which is good," said Petkus of the arsenic, which he said is moving through the soil and groundwater and settling in the wetland sediment near the landfill. "So far we have not found arsenic in the drinking water."
Petkus said only 10 to 15 percent of Andover's drinking water comes from Fish Brook.
"It is part of your water supply," said Petkus of Fish Brook. "Any part of your water supply is important and that should give you some momentum to jump on it and say, 'Let's do it."
Petkus said the only confirmed use for the landfill site once it is recapped is as a public works storage area. The town's previous plan was to build a Little League complex atop the recapped landfill.
"This site won't meet any long-term plan of having a Little League field complex," said Stapczynski. "You just can't sink a stanchion in for lights. You can't put much of a foundation in for a building or posts for a fence without it being very expensive."
If money is not appropriated at Town Meeting, Stapczynski said the state could order a consent decree forcing the town to close the landfill.
"Perhaps they'd let us be able to bring it up at a future Town Meeting," he said. "We can't run away from this problem."