Gardner Sludge Landfill

Opposing the Proposed Gardner Sludge Landfill Expansion:

A Healthy Vision for our Watershed

Welcome! The Millers River Watershed Council (MRWC) is opposing this ill-conceived project, which will, if approved, have substantial negative consequences for our region and beyond. The area of the proposed project expansion is within 1,300 feet of the Otter River and contains several vernal pools certified by MRWC.

MRWC has been working for several years with residents of Gardner to urge the City to adopt a cleaner, safer and more economically sensible solution to managing its sludge waste. Besides the adverse impacts the project would cause on the local and regional environment, we believe that approval of this project would send the wrong message to communities and stakeholders state-wide about the future of wastewater solids management throughout the State. We don’t believe the Chair City’s legacy is to become Dump City for the rest of the Commonwealth.

On this page you will find:

  • Project Map: 1-mile radius
  • 2/10/23 – DEP rules that a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) must be submitted.
  • Coalition October 2022 Update Report Link
  • Update: Victory for Vernal Pools in Gardner, March 2021
  • Detailed Project Information
  • chronology of events below…
  • Future updates will provide information on other actions you can take to support this work.
  • Environmental Justice statement May 2022 addition
  • last update 4/12/23

October 2022: Sludge Landfill Opposition

Coalition issues updated project report.

Coalition issues updated review of opposition reasoning covering overview, threats to water supply, better alternatives, and concerns with environmental destruction and air quality.

See report HERE.



The City of Gardner proposes a major expansion of the Sludge Landfill on the almost 200-acre Wildwood Cemetery Forest property, located at 850 West Street in Gardner MA. The property abuts the city-owned 122-acre Cummings Otter River Conservation Area (established in 2012). The property also abuts a 69-acre privately owned property enrolled in Chapter 61 (Forestry) and is within 1⁄2 mile of the newly acquired North County Land Trust’s 157-acre Ebenezer Keyes Conservation Area.

The Wildwood Cemetery Forest is a 189-acre city-owned property that includes 119 acres of undeveloped forest and wetlands, including a large intact esker, two certified vernal pools, a kettle-hole level bog, and hiking trails. Over the years, this property has undergone some development on 70 acres including a 23-acre closed (and capped) Solid Waste Landfill & recycling / trash transfer station, a 22-acre large scale photovoltaic solar array, the 13-acre Wildwood Cemetery, and the 12-acre Sludge Landfill. The expansion is planned for approximately 4-5 acres of undeveloped land to the west of the existing sludge landfill. To date, the City has invested about $640,000 in engineering and planning for the expansion. (italics 4/2022 update)

II. Objections to the landfill expansion include:

    1.     Risk of future ground water contamination with potential impact to drinking water. Approximately 60 private residential wells and the Templeton Otter River Town Well are within a 1-mile radius. The abutting 69-acre Rousseau property has two spring fed ponds and a private well. The entire area of the Wildwood Cemetery Forest, Cummings Conservation Area, and Rousseau property has many wetlands, drains via Bailey Brook (a cold water fishery) to the Otter River—the largest tributary to the Millers River.

    2.     Destruction of 4.2 acres of natural resources in the Wildwood Cemetery Forest, including wildlife habitat, forest, natural esker, and certified vernal pools.

    3.     Continued source of ongoing strong sewer-type odors as evidenced by many years of odor complaints originating from the existing landfill by residents of Gardner and Templeton.

    4.     Negative impacts to public’s recreational use and enjoyment of the abutting 122-acre Cummings Otter River Conservation Area established by the City in 2012 with $402,000 of state and federal Funding. Likely negative impacts include odors and the unsightly view of sludge landfill itself right at the Cummings property line.

    5.     Failure of the City to present a thorough and accurate examination of the various sludge management options and their costs.

III. Project Alternatives Exist

There are many feasible alternatives to the Sludge Landfill Expansion, including recycling to soils (composting, fertilizer), hauling out for Incineration, and Anaerobic Digestion (AD). Currently, AD seems to offer the best choice for an alternative that is a cost effective and environmentally friendly, with the added benefit of being consistent with Massachusetts’ goals for renewal energy. In 2015, a CDR Maguire consultant created an alternatives analysis for the City. However, this consultant had previously worked on the expansion planning (as early as 2012) and now is the project manager for the expansion project. The City needs to initiate an independent feasibility study to explore AD options. 

IV. Opposition strategy:

In 2020, MRWC and an abutter (A. Rousseau) hired the prestigious Boston-based environmental law firm of McGregor and Legere PC for legal services and Matthew S. Marro Environmental Consulting for environmental services. We are challenging the proposed expansion on several legal and regulatory fronts, as well as working to muster public opposition through various means.  

2021 August:  MRWC announces the formation of a statewide Coalition For a Sustainable Alternative to Expanding the Gardner Sludge Landfill. The Coalition includes the following nine local, regional and statewide groups and organizations (we hope to add a few more): Millers River Watershed Council, Gardner Clean Air, Athol Bird and Nature Club, Clean Water Action, Connecticut River Conservancy, MassPIRG, Mass Rivers Alliance, Mount Grace Conservation Land Trust and North County Land Trust.

V. Chronology of Major Events:

1985 – City receives site assignment approval for existing Sludge Landfill

1990 – Operations begin at existing Sludge Landfill

2005 – Solid Waste Landfill Closes – Also emits terrible odors for 2-3 years after capping

2012 – CDR Maguire begins evaluations for Sludge Landfill expansion

2012 – Cummings Otter River Conservation Area is established by the City of Gardner with state and federal grants.

2013 – Sludge Landfill reaches maximum capacity per design specifications.

2014 – Major odor problems reported by residents results in a Board of Health Public Meeting at which the Board Chair commits to further discussion and action as covered by local newspaper articles.

2014 – Gardner Clear Air grassroots group is founded and advocates for alternative solution to expansion.

2015 – United Water (landfill operator) implements work procedure changes to reduce odors. Odors reduced, but continue to the present time.

2015 – CDR Maguire consultant prepares alternatives analysis for sludge disposal and concludes Sludge Landfill expansion is determined to be lowest cost option.

2016 (Feb) – MADEP approves 30-foot vertical expansion of existing Sludge Landfill.

2016 (Nov) – Gardner Clean Air partners with the Millers River Watershed Council (MRWC).

2016 (Dec) – After a well-attended City Council public hearing in October, in which not a single person spoke in favor of the project (except for the Mayor), and during which Gardner Clean Air submitted a petition with over 300 signatures of residents opposing the project, the City Council approves the Mayor’s order to endorse the Sludge Landfill expansion.

2017 (Oct) – City submits initial application for expansion, DEP advises that a different application for required. 2018 (May) — DEP & City execute Individual Project Rule.

2019 – MRWC certifies three vernal pools with NHESP. NHESP notifies Gardner Conservation Commission of certification.

2020 (Feb) – DEP & City Meeting on expansion.

2020 (Jun) – Gardner Conservation Commission issues Order of Resource Area Delineation (ORAD) confirming the accuracy of the boundaries of the bordering vegetated wetlands and vernal pool (identified as B series) under the MA Wetlands Protection Act.

2020 (Jun) – Abutter Alan Rousseau files appeal to ORAD

2020 (Jul) — During MADEP field visit to review wetlands delineation, City learns of certified vernal pools within and near proposed expansion area. MADEP requests that City provide water resource calculations for the vernal pools.

2020 (Aug) — City informs MADEP of inability to provide the requested information due to recent special election for a new Mayor and budgetary constraints.

2020 (Dec) – MRWC and Alan Rousseau (abutter) jointly file a Request for Determination of Applicability (RDA) under the Gardner Wetland Protection Ordinance to have the Conservation Commission recognize the certified Vernal Pools and confirm that work near them requires Conservation Commission approval.

2020 (Dec) – North County Land Trust (NCLT) acquires the 157-acre Ebenezer Keyes Conservation Area in order to establish a new conservation area in Gardner. This property is in the 1⁄2 to 1 mile radius of the proposed expansion.

2021 (Mar) – Gardner Conservation Commission votes unanimously for a positive determination on the Request for Determination of Applicability. This is a great victory for protecting the 3 vernal pools!

2021 August:  MRWC announces the formation of a statewide Coalition For a Sustainable Alternative to Expanding the Gardner Sludge Landfill. The Coalition includes the following nine local, regional and statewide groups and organizations (we hope to add a few more): Millers River Watershed Council, Gardner Clean Air, Athol Bird and Nature Club, Clean Water Action, Connecticut River Conservancy, MassPIRG, Mass Rivers Alliance, Mount Grace Conservation Land Trust and North County Land Trust.

2021 (Sept.) – MassDEP issued a Superseding Order of Resource Area Delineation (SORAD) on 9/17/21. This was in response to our ANRAD appeal filed on 6/25/20.  This resulted in an accurate Wetland Delineation Map that now depicts correct wetland boundaries, labeling of state certified vernal pools, and 100 foot buffers.   Many thanks to Matt Marro, Environmental Consultant who filed the appeal on our behalf!

2021 (October) – The City resumed SLF expansion design work.

2021 (November) – On 11/16/21, we received an email from Dane Arnold (Gardner DPW Director), resulting from a recent public records request  indicating that:

     * The expansion plan footprint is now reduced to 4.2 acres.  This is very good news!  We are now in the process of  reviewing the environmental impacts of the new plan.

     * The City is aiming to submit a WP 33 permit application to MassDEP the week of 1/3/22.  This will trigger the IRP (Individual Rule Project), an agreement between the City and MassDEP that specifies a schedule of administrative and technical reviews, public comment and public hearing, and MassDEP decisions. The IRP includes public notification and comment via the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) process.  We will be providing more information on the IRP and public review process in the near future. We will need many voices to comment on the permit application and address the need for environmentally sustainable alternatives!

2022 (January) — City of Gardner submits its WP33 Permit Application to MassDEP on 1/18/22 to expand the existing sludge landfill. Coalition members prepare an Environmental Justice (EJ) Fact Sheet and meet with state EJ officials. (See EJ fact sheet and Gardner sludge landfill EJ map below) Coalition Environmental Justice Statement link.

2022 (February) –On 2/17/22 A MassDEP issues an Administrative Deficiency Letter to Gardner, requiring additional work on the WP33 permit application.

2022 (April) — State Environmental Justice officials convene a pre-filing meeting with City of Gardner to address EJ concerns as part of the MEPA review process. Environmental Justice link.

Map link

2022 (May) — MassDEP issues a Determination of Administrative Completeness in response to Gardner’s March submission replying to DEP’s Administrative Deficiency Letter of February. DEP puts its technical review of Gardner’s application “on hold” awaiting “Other Agency Determination” as part of the MEPA review process.

2022 (July) — At the July 25th Public Hearing on the Notice of Intent (NOI) that the City of Gardner submitted to the Gardner Conservation Commission, after hearing presentations by the City’s consultant and questions and comments (all critical) by several audience members both in the room and via Zoom (terrible audio!), the ConComm decided to continue the Public Hearing to August 8th.

2022 (August) — The Aug. 8th public Hearing was moved to August 22. Thanks to everyone that was able to attend the 8/22/22 Conservation Commission Meeting! We again had a good mix of residents from Gardner and Templeton both in-person and via Zoom. The attendees asked some great questions and the Commission responded to those questions. The Commission continued the SLF Expansion NOI Public Hearing to Monday 10/24/22, pending a 3rd party peer review. Thus far, we are aware of 7 letters that have been sent to the Commission since 7/25/22 with comments on the SLF Expansion NOI. This includes letters from regional watershed and conservation groups including the Millers River Watershed Council, North County Land Trust, and Mount Grace Conservation Land Trust. Link here to MRWC NOI comment letter. Link here to North County Land Trust comments. Link here to Mount Grace comments. Link here to Alan Rousseau (abutter) comments.

2022 (October) Coalition issues updated review of opposition reasoning covering overview, threats to water supply, better alternatives, and concerns with environmental destruction and air quality. LINK

2022 December: An appeal was submitted to MA-DEP on December 1st, relative to the Sludge Landfill expansion’s Notice of Intent (NOI) and the Order of Conditions (OOC) that was approved by the Gardner Conservation Commission on 11/14/22.  The appeal was filed by Nathaniel Stevens, of the law firm of McGregor, Legere & Stevens, on behalf of Alan Rousseau (as property abutter and aggrieved person) and a Ten Resident Group (all living in Gardner). The appeal requests that the Department of Environmental  Protection issue a Superseding Order of Conditions (SOC) denying the proposed work, based on outstanding issues with wetlands protection and stormwater management identified by the City’s Peer Review consultant, Tighe & Bond.

December 23, 2022 – Gardner submits Environmental Notification Form (ENF), which appeared in the 12/23/22 Environmental Monitor. This started a 20-day Public comment clock ticking for the MEPA (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act) review process, with comments due January 12th. 

January 9, 2023: That deadline was subsequently extended to January 31st. The Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is required to issue a ruling (“Certificate”) by Feb. 10th.

January 17, 2023: A site visit was convened by the MEPA office. The meeting was well attended by the public, many of whom expressed concerns about the potential for landfill liner leakage, contamination of drinking water wells, and the City’s limited consideration of alternatives.

January 27, 2023: MRWC submits public comments on behalf of The Coalition (Comments Link)

In addition, several Coalition member groups, including MRWC, submitted their own comments by the Jan. 31 deadline.

February, 2023: New EOEEA Secretary Rebecca Tepper issues a Certificate, dated Feb. 10th, requiring the City of Gardner to submit an Environmental Impact Report (EIR)–a big victory for the Coalition! See Certificate [LINK]

April 3, 2023 – MassDEP site visit scheduled for Appeal of the Gardner Conservation Commissions Order of Conditions approved in November, 2022.

Athol Daily News, 11-21-22 Coalition opposed to sludge landfill expansion weighs next steps, Link

Gardner News 8/3/22:

Athol Daily News, May 12, 2022 –

Athol Daily News:

MRWC Coalition:

Gardner News: 12/22/21, Gardner sludge landfill nearing capacity; officials seeking solutions (

 Athol Daily News 12/22/22 article re Appeal of ConCom decision —attached

Athol Daily News 1/24/23 article re MEPA site visit — attached

The Gardner News 2/8/23 article LINK

Athol Daily News Feb. 21, 2023 article re EIR ruling – link and attached

The Gardner News 3-2-23 LINK