Massachusetts beware: `Mt. Trashmores' are everywhere

MT. GREYLOCK, elevation 3,491 feet, may always be Massachusetts' highest peak. But a potential man-made landmark of sorts could rival it some day. As far fetched as it sounds, the fact remains that the Bay State has a mountainous trash problem. Dump sites, especially in the eastern part of the state, are filling up. By the early 1990s, there may be little room left.

Clearly more places are needed, but finding them is an increasing challenge for politicians. Nobody wants a dump or an incinerator in his neighborhood, especially one that would handle rubble hauled in from another community.

In the past, when there was plenty of open land, much of it well insulated from nearby residences, locating a dump met with less community resistance.

Until now the state has lacked an overall waste-disposal policy. Those who could have provided the leadership - public officials and environmentalists alike - have approached this burgeoning problem with the aggressiveness of a sleeping infant.

To what extent that might change should be clear soon as legislation, now before Senate and House conferees, nears final action. The measure would provide up to $220 million to communities for the construction or improvement of waste-disposal facilities. Included are incentives for communities to serve as sites for a regional recycling, composting, or other type disposal plant. This approach, if successful, would end the traditional arrangement in which each community is responsible for its own rubbish.

The legislation, which has taken nearly three years to get this far, also calls for a long-overdue study of what the commonwealth's future solid-waste disposal needs might be, including how much landfill space will be be available, and where.

While offering individual communities a funding carrot, including $10 million for composting and $25 million for recycling, the bill will not force a city or town to do anything.

State environmental officials hope this approach will encourage municipalities to develop or expand recycling and resource-recovery efforts. The less rubble put into the ground, even if compacted, the longer landfill sites will last without the threat of a Mt. Trash somewhere in the commonwealth.

Despite its obvious strengths and potential for meeting the future solid-waste disposal needs, the pending legislation appears timid about where and how soon any waste-disposal facilities will be sited. It could take years for many communities to decide what to do with their waste.

Although it is questionable how far government officials should go to force acceptance of a regional trash-disposal facility, there might be a way to lessen local resistance. Worth trying is a system of rewards, either through incentives such as additional state funding of local roads, bridges, schools, and recreational programs, or annual cash grants for property-tax relief for community residents.

That would help further compensate a community in which a regional dump or incinerator was located for extra traffic on its streets and for the inconvenience of having a disposal site within its borders.

Many communities still would not be interested in allowing a dump or other trash-disposal operation to set up shop there.

But these aid inducements are sure to interest at least a few. Who knows, if the rewards were great enough, there might even be competition.

It should be noted that there is precedent for such special inducements. Under the state's corrections system, communities affected by the location of a prison facility have been given extra support through the building of roads and water or sewer lines in the area involved.

An arrangement could be worked out for some type of annual payments by the state to a city or town for the site being used for solid waste landfill or trash-burning plant.

If a municipality could volunteer a site or willingly accept a rubble-disposal facility, there would be less political squabbling and the commonwealth could move ahead more expeditiously to meet tomorrow's waste-disposal requirements.

State officials, of course, would have the final say. Some potential sites might have to be rejected because of environmental considerations, such as proximity to local water supplies or bodies of water used for recreational purposes.

Also worthy of attention is increased emphasis on separating and recycling trash. At least one Midwestern community has a program where the rubbish collections from a randomly selected home are checked; if properly sorted, the resident gets a reward.

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