WILLIAMSTOWN — Really old trash still is trash, especially when it’s in the river.
Saturday, a team of volunteers will be walking through a portion of the Green River, looking to clear out 60- to 70-year-old bits of trash that fell into the waterway from an old landfill located on the riverbank.
The Harper Landfill was in operation from 1947 to 1960, when it closed. The town paid the Harpers to operate the landfill. Back then, there weren’t many regulations concerning landfills, so, when it closed, it sat there as the surrounding vegetation eventually grew over the 13 years’ worth of refuse.
During recent years, especially with Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, when severe weather caused trees to fall and expose the trash, or high water swept away segments of the riverbank, some of the ancient trash has wound up washing into the river.
Mark Thaisz has lived on New Ashford Road (Route 7), next to the former landfill, since 1988. He said it was after Irene when he noticed there was trash in the river.
“If a tree falls, you can see layers of bottles and cans and assorted household waste,” said Thaisz, who said annual volunteer cleanups have taken place for six or seven years.
A neighbor’s dog cut its paw on broken glass in the river near the landfill a few years ago, prompting more concern among the neighbors, he noted.
Saturday, as they have in past years, volunteers and neighbors of the river again will wade through the water, clearing out trash bits to fill yellow bags and send them to a transfer station, headed for a more-modern landfill.
In the meantime, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is in the midst of a site assessment.
According to Chris Lemoine, director of the Williamstown Department of Public Works, the DEP will issue a report near the end of the year that will offer recommendations on how to reenforce the riverbank to better contain the materials in the landfill and prevent any more trash from washing into the river.
Lemoine noted that multiple tests of the soil in and around the 4.5-acre landfill, and tests of river water and well water near the site since 2017, all showed no traces of dangerous chemicals, so, the only concern is the solid waste contained in the landfill — household waste such as ceramics, glass bottles and old cans.
There also were larger chunks of metallic waste, such as old detached snowplows, water heaters, boilers, car parts and a nearly intact old Volkswagen, as well as some old tires. The town removed all that above-ground waste — 34.42 tons of it — a couple of years ago.
Lemoine said that this isn’t the only landfill located near a river, and that the DEP is dealing with worse examples of this in the eastern part of the state, making this site a lower priority.
He speculated that work might start on repairing the landfill breach next year.
Saturday, starting at 1 p.m., volunteers will gather at Thaisz’s home at 340 New Ashford Road and head into the river from there. The cleanup is being organized by the South Williamstown Community Association and the Hoosic River Watershed Association.
Volunteers are being instructed to park at the Hart Garage and cross the road to walk down the Thaisz driveway. Volunteers will need rubber boots or water shoes, gloves and insect repellant. The town is providing the garbage bags and will arrange for disposal.