A proposed expansion for a New Bedford-based waste recycling facility has local residents already forming an opposition group, but Mayor Jon Mitchell said he's not sure they even know what it is they're protesting yet.

Parallel Products, based in the city's industrial park, is looking to take a portion of the former Polaroid property to expand its current operations. However, an organization called Stop the Parallel Dump has already sent out mailers geared toward stopping Parallel's proposed expansion.

In his weekly appearance on WBSM Wednesday, Mitchell said Parallel Products is a business that has been in the city for quite a while and is not planning on creating a dump on the site at 100 Duchaine Boulevard.

"They're looking to do a couple of things," he said. "They're looking to expand where their recycling facility, they're looking to connect it to the freight line right there that goes through the industrial park, and also to possibly do some processing of municipal sludge."

"It's a site where they want to do some other stuff, (but) it's not a dump," he said.

Sludge is the product of breaking down organic waste, particularly food waste. The breaking down of organic matter generates methane, which can be used to power vehicles--ABC Disposal's trucks run on methane, Mitchell said--as well as to generate other electricity. It is done through something called an anaerobic digester, and currently, the City of New Bedford pays about $2 million per year to ship sludge to a processing plant in Rhode Island.

The City may be able to save considerable money if it can instead keep its sludge inside the city at a place like Parallel Products, although Mitchell pointed out they may not necessarily send it there. He said that the City is actually considering building its own anaerobic digester to process sludge, and could also look at other private anaerobic digestors elsewhere in Massachusetts.

"If we wanted a contract with them, we could, and there will be others—lots of municipalities and lots of large industrial facilities that have to get rid of sludge, that have to get rid of food waste," Mitchell said. "What the City does with its waste, we'll have to decide, but there are some options out there."

Mitchell also noted that he was not taking a position of defending Parallel Products, but rather pointing out that he thinks the company needs to better inform the local residents of its intended plans. He said it seems people have the wrong idea about Parallel trying to build another dump like the nearby Crapo Hill landfill.

"Parallel Products has to pay attention to the neighborhood," Mitchell said. "Parallel Products has to communicate exactly what it's doing, what it plans to do, and not wait for the neighborhood to come and ask. They've got to get down to work so that people know what's happening in their neighborhood."

The mayor pointed out that Parallel Products does not need any special City permitting or zoning changes to go forward with its plans; he said they do need a number of state permits, which they've already started the process of acquiring. He also noted that the company did not ask for any tax breaks from the City, either.

And although the City would require no public hearings on the matter, the mayor said he'd still like to see Parallel Products open things up for public comment.

"There may be public hearings required by the state process, but they should be having public hearings anyway, even if they're not required by law to do that," he said.

Mitchell also suggested that representatives from Parallel Products should come on WBSM and explain the project to the listening audience.

"That they haven't done that to this point just astonishes me," he said. "They need to let the public know what they have in mind."

There will be a meeting Thursday, March 7 at 10 a.m. at the site to go over the potential plans, and to allow the public to share its opinions on the proposal. Stop the Parallel Dump is planning on having representatives there.

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