An official with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is headed to the Vineyard this month to review Donaroma’s Nursery’s operation of a composting facility at Daniels Farm in Edgartown, following years of complaints from abutters and other residents in the area.
On Monday, selectmen heard from Charles Sennott, a direct abutter to the composting facility, who voiced his opposition to the operation.
Michael Donaroma, a selectman and owner of Donaroma’s Nursery, did not participate in the discussion.
Sennott, who owns a home on Duende Lane, said he has been raising issues with the composting use of Daniels Farm, which Donaroma leases, for the past six years. His concerns are with the smell and noise, and the health of his family, all due to Donaroma’s composting operations being within 250 feet of his property. Sennott claims the composting operation violates a state requirement that composting operations be at least 250 feet from a private well. He said the operations were as close as 25 feet.
Town administrator James Hagerty played a June 27 video taken by Sennott from his yard with machinery work seen and heard near his property.
“You’re seeing an industrial operation right outside our window. You can’t sit on our front steps and not be overtaken by the sounds you hear in that video by the incredible activity,” Sennott said. “This odor is so bad we had to leave the property … It was powerful; it was much worse when they were turning it over, it was literally making us ill.”
Sennott said he did not come to the Island until late June due to concerns about traveling during the pandemic. Once he arrived, he said, Donaroma’s had inappropriately expanded its reach on the property.
“I’ve been — honestly and respectfully — incredibly disappointed in the town,” Sennott said. “I just couldn’t believe Michael Donaroma had taken the opportunity of COVID to step up that operation to this extent. This was an aggressive campaign to expand while we weren’t there, I believe.”
Sennott also shared a petition he created with more than 30 signatures from Island residents asking for the immediate shutdown of Donaroma’s operations at Daniels Farm.
Unsure of what role the town played in the dispute, selectman Arthur Smadbeck said town counsel Ron Rappaport was asked to take a look at the matter.
In response to a complaint, Rappaport, along with health agent Matt Poole and building inspector and zoning officer Reade Milne, visited the site.
“At that point we could not smell, really, any odors. I mean, there’s a slight whiff depending on where you stood on the property, but essentially we couldn’t smell any odors,” Rappaport said.
Rappaport told selectmen the head of the solid waste division at the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) would be coming to the Vineyard by the end of the month to inspect the property.
According to Rappaport, the issue boiled down to the interplay between an agricultural exemption and zoning, resulting in a lack of town jurisdiction.
Donaroma’s Nursery is licensed and operated under Chapter 310 CMR 16, site assignment regulations for solid waste facilities, which DEP has jurisdiction over.
Normally solid waste facilities require a site assignment from MassDEP, but exemption is given to agricultural composting operations.
Composting operations must not be located within 250 feet of a private well, according to the state’s guide to agricultural composting.
“These agricultural exemptions, they do hinder us,” Smadbeck said.
Sennott also took issue with the town’s insistence that it does not have jurisdiction. “How is it that that is not a zoning issue? How is the smell and the powerful sounds, and the beeping, and the dust, and the flies not a health issue?” he said.
Sennott’s attorney Chris Maffucci told selectmen the town could put a halt to the composting activity.
“We believe there’s not just an appearance of a conflict of interest due to the ownership of Donaroma’s Nursery and Landscaping Service, but also an actual conflict of interest. And not just because of a lack of enforcement of the town’s police powers through its zoning and regulations concerning the environmental uses of the property leased by Donaroma,” Maffucci said. “What Mr. Donaroma, himself, promised to do, in response to directives and orders from the town in 2016 has been ignored … There is a conflict of interest because he sits as chairman of the board of selectmen.”
Smadbeck is actually the chairman.
Speaking to The Times by phone Tuesday, Donaroma disagreed with some of Sennott’s complaints. “Some of his complaints were ill represented,” Donaroma said, adding that Sennott’s video was of an excavator moving loam, not compost. He said the loam piles were purposely placed near Sennott’s property as a sound and screen barrier. “It isn’t like I haven’t been trying.”
Donaroma said the issue has been ongoing, but said he hadn’t spoken to Sennott since last year.
Health agent Matt Poole disagreed with Sennott that Donaroma had expanded the composting operation. Poole also got in a back-and-forth with Sennott over the space between Sennott’s well and the farm.
“The reason why we need an expert is because [Donaroma] is going to contend that his composting area is greater than 250 feet from your well. The processing area is within 250 feet from your well,” Poole said. “Then we’re going to get into the semantics of is processing composting.”
Tuesday morning, Poole sent an email to Donaroma asking him to suspend composting operations at Daniels Farm.
“In consideration of the town arranging a site visit with DEP, as soon as they’re reasonably able to make travel arrangements to the Daniels Farm, the board of health requests that you suspend compost and related processing at the Daniels Farm until they have visited and issued a response,” the email read in part.
In a reply email, Donaroma said he was willing to suspend composting operations at the farm, but that planting operations would continue.
Milne, the town’s building inspector and zoning enforcement officer, said the agricultural exemption for zoning is far-reaching. “The agricultural exemption exists to protect farmers, and it’s very broad-reaching,” Milne said, adding she understood Sennott’s frustrations. “The claim that it’s industrial use, well, it falls under the agricultural exemption. [Donaroma] is creating dirt that is growing plants that he is selling on the Island, and that’s classic ag-exemption right there.”
Sennott reiterated that the issue had been going on for far too long. “We just don’t think we can live with this,” Sennott said. “We would like the town to work with us to find a remedy, even if it was Mr. Donaroma living up to what he said he would do, [Poole], when you and I talked to him about the berm and about pushing it back.”