What's In A Name? | CAI

What's In A Name?

Dec 3, 2019

We live, literally, a stone’s throw from the town dump. I know, I know-“dump” is not the proper name for what is currently an officially known as the town transfer station. Nevertheless, most people in town still refer to it as the town dump.


Few places in Wellfleet have changed their names and their function as frequently as the “town dump.” My first contact with Wellfleet’s dump took place in the summer of 1964 when I collected garbage for Dave Furness' Cape Cod Refuse Company (whose memorable motto was “Satisfaction Guaranteed or Double Your Garbage Back”). Those were the wild-West days of town dumps, when anyone could bring anything to the dump and “dump” it. The dump was essentially an on-site open-burning incinerator, where flammable items were burnt off.

When I eventually moved to Wellfleet in the 1990s, the dump’s official name had been changed to “sanitary landfill.” Though open burning had long been outlawed and hazardous waste now had to be separately disposed of, the landfill was hardly “sanitary.” Somehow, I think, “landfill” was supposed to sound more “sanitary” than “dump.” In any case, few people, except for town officials, use the new term. For most of us it was still the “town dump.”

When the state eventually prohibited sanitary landfills on the Cape, the town was required to cap the decades-long pile of garbage with an impermeable layer of clay soil. At the same time the present system was inaugurated where garbage is placed in large steel containers and trucked off Cape to the town of Rochester, I believe, where it is disposed of in an industrial incinerator.

Once again the name of the dump was changed, this time to its current identity of “transfer station.” On one hand this is a more accurate term, but it is also misleading because it means we have simply shifted the problem of disposing of our garbage to another town, for a fee, of course. But once again, the old name persists in all but official municipal documents. I would guess that at least nine out of ten people in town still refer to it as “the dump.” And in some ways, the old name is still the most accurate, for whatever else we may call it-sanitary landfill, transfer station, recycling center, etc.-It is still the place where we go and dump our trash (and try not to think too hard about its ultimate fate).

But that may finally be changing. In September 2018 voters at a special Wellfleet town meeting overwhelmingly approved an article to allow construction of a large solar panel array on the capped landfill. The town has leased the land to Ameresco, a Framingham-based company. As I write this, 2500 solar panels are being installed on the old dump, which will produce an estimated 700 to 900 kilowatts of electricity. In return the town will receive $71,000 a year in discounted electricity and payments in lieu of taxes. All in all it seems like a win-win situation.

But more than that, after decades of environmentally detrimental uses, the dump will now be producing fossil free, non-polluting renewable energy. So perhaps it is finally time to change not just the official but the colloquial name for the “town dump.”

“Solar Park,” anyone?