Town Hall Notebook: Black Earth, Moving


Andrew Brousseau, an owner of Black Earth Composting, appeared at last week’s Bike & Pedestrian Committee with an update on plans to move its composting operation in the Limited Commercial District to a new, state-of-the-art one at the site of the town’s transfer station on Pine Street.

Officially, Black Earth has not yet been awarded the contract to build and operate the $1.5 million facility, estimated to break ground in Spring 2022.  But finalization is imminent.  Black Earth has been working with the town for four years and was the only bidder in a Spring public RFP to build and operate the new facility.  Finalization of the 20-year contract is expected next month.

No one is happier to be moving than the folks at Black Earth. 

But why would the Manchester Bike & Ped committee be interested in the moving plans for a regional compost processing company? 

Well, because the transfer station is located on a nob of land sandwiched between three popular hiking and biking areas—Gravelly Pond and the Essex Woods to the west, the extensive Gordon College woods to the east, and wooded swampland owned by the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust to the north. 

Brousseau, a native of Manchester, former Eagle Scout and avid bicyclist, asked to present to the committee.  Black Earth, he said, wanted to get ahead of any concerns about the facility’s impact on public safety.

There’s a symbiotic relationship between the town of Manchester and Black Earth, which provides free curbside compost service for all residents in exchange for use of town land to operate.  This saves between $90,000 and $132,000 per year.  Another plus?  Residents get all the compost they want, free of charge.  (At $20+/bag for compost at retail garden centers, that’s no small benefit).  It’s a proverbial “win-win,” situation and an unusual example of public-private partnership for a Massachusetts municipality. 

There’s also the environment, where composting offers a double benefit.  Not only does offloading food waste from landfills advance the “zero waste” promise, but composted soil also processes carbon dioxide into oxygen, mitigating greenhouse gases.

At its current operation on School Street, Black Earth stockpiles food waste collected from regional restaurants, curbside pick-up, yard waste dropped off by town residents, and seaweed.  All this is combined to make compost.  The site consists of several compost “windrows” at varying stages that are periodically turned by a front-end loader.  Some of the windrows receive aeration through perforated pipes laying directly on the ground and powered by small blowers.

Over the past two years, neighboring businesses in the Limited Commercial District have complained about the smell coming from the compost operation.  Black Earth implemented odor mitigation measures, but some odor is unavoidable. 

With the new facility, Black Earth will leave these challenges of School Street behind, and they’re excited.  The company’s new home will have high-capacity composting technology and odor mitigation that is anything but primitive.  It will include conveyor belts, a covered drop off center, and automated processing area, and a biofilter located in the area of the compactor drop-off area that will remove and treat odorous gas.

Early in its planning, a $400,000 state grant was tagged to cover a portion of the overall cost, with an additional $250,000 from the town as a grant match.  But the town didn’t get the grant, because the project hadn’t started construction during the required period.  Black Earth launched a gofundme campaign, and has already received more than $300,000 from 2,200 donors.  Black Earth will provide remaining funds to construct the facility, which will be owned by the Town of Manchester.  In exchange, Black Earth will receive a 20-year contract, with extension rights.

When complete, the composting operation will be the majority of the property and a new overall layout that accommodates environmental regulations and wavers.

In order to create space to make vehicle turning reasonable, the gravel area needed to be expanded to the north, including 2,100 square feet of wetland buffer impacts.  The project proposes to remove approximately ½ acre of wooded area.  Both of these expansions have been permitted through MassDEP and Manchester Conservation Commission.

The transfer station and landfill are surrounded by wetlands to the north, east, and south. There are also wetland areas to the west of Pine Street.  Engineering firms have already completed field work for the large compost project, including wetlands delineation, survey, and borings. 

In order to make the site usable for both the transfer station and composting operation, the available area on the site needs to be fully utilized.  This includes clearing trees and blasting to create grade over approximately a half-acre of the site between the transfer station and Pine Street, including areas in the wetland buffer.  

The town has already received approvals and waivers from the ConCom for clearing, blasting of ledge and grading on the site according to the project’s plans, construction of the fabric roofed structure, the creation of a new gravel access road off Pine Street, expansion of existing gravel areas for the transfer station, installation of a stormwater management pond, installation of a conveyor belt system to transport compost, expansion of the gravel area on top of the currently capped landfill, and installation of a biofilter and glower to treat emissions and odors from compost processing.  Also, since the project will add two acres of impervious surface, the project is proposing a stormwater pond to control offsite peak flows.  

Black Earth intends to process 30 tons per week of food waste which will be bulked with yard waste.  Food waste will be delivered to the compost building by Black Earth’s collection vehicles, which the company plans to expand from 12 in its present fleet to 15 once it moves to Pine Street.

Residential traffic will enter the brush and yard waste area by a new access road off Pine Street, to the south of the current transfer station entrance.  Traffic will be routed around the cell tower already on the site, to the drop-off areas.  Traffic will then exit the site via the same access road.  Residential traffic also utilizes the transfer station area on the north side of the site utilizing access in a similar location as the current site entrance.

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