Solid waste engineers will visit Cape Elizabeth this week to assess the safety of its transfer station after a former public works director was fatally injured there, the town manager announced Monday.

Herbert Dennison, 79, was throwing his garbage into the trash compactor on Nov. 24 when he was struck by a Ford Explorer driven by Christine Sharp-Lopez, 72, of Hunts Point Road. Police said she was backing up at a high speed when the sport utility vehicle struck Dennison and pushed him, causing him to fall into the below-ground-level compactor, which wasn’t operating.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said engineers from Woodard & Curran of Portland will examine the site and recommend any safety improvements that can be made immediately.

“I want them to look at the current operations – the way traffic and pedestrians circulate, the way solid waste is handled – and make short-term recommendations for anything we can do to make the place safer,” McGovern said.

Woodard & Curran also has been asked to submit a proposal for an in-depth study of the town’s solid waste disposal and recycling options, McGovern said. The study would encompass options ranging from making modifications to the existing drop-off facility to adopting curbside trash pickup.

In a 2003 survey, only 9 percent of Cape Elizabeth residents supported a move to curbside pickup, McGovern said. The town spends about $550,000 annually on solid waste disposal and recycling as a member of the ecomaine regional trash burning and recycling facility in Portland.


Thirteen of ecomaine’s 27 owner and associate member communities don’t have regular curbside trash pickup, said ecomaine spokesman Frank Gallagher.

McGovern notified the Town Council in September about safety concerns at the transfer station and recommended hiring a firm to conduct a full study of the facility, he said. Town officials noted that the 38-year-old compactor should be replaced and that high vehicular and pedestrian traffic was creating safety concerns.

Public Works Director Robert Malley said the facility was designed for drivers to back up to the compactor and deposit their trash. However, while some drivers back up, others pull in forward. And some people don’t like to wait in line in their vehicles, so they walk into the facility with their trash bags while cars and trucks come and go.

The council had made it a goal to conduct the study in 2015, largely because of the cost of replacing the compactor, said Chairman Jessica Sullivan.

When the accident occurred, the force of the SUV was strong enough to push Dennison through a latched, waist-high chain-link fence intended to keep people from falling into the compactor, Malley said. There’s also a low steel bar to prevent vehicles from backing into compactor, he said. The transfer station reopened after the fence was repaired.

The accident is under investigation. Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Neil Williams said investigators will conduct a vehicle autopsy this week to determine whether a mechanical failure led to the accident. Once that’s complete, a report will be sent to the Cumberland County district attorney, who will decide whether any charges will be filed.


McGovern, who was away on vacation when the accident happened, said Dennison’s death was a tragic loss for the community. He recalled meeting Dennison in 1977, when McGovern worked as an intern for the town.

When McGovern became assistant town manager in 1978, he stood beside Dennison when the town closed its open-burning dump and opened the transfer station. The town named the road leading to the transfer station after Dennison when he retired in 1981.

“Herb was a fine man and was completely dedicated to his community,” McGovern said. “He always put serving the public first. His legacy of having the best roads during winter and a good pavement management program will forever remind all who knew him of what he accomplished.”

From overseeing major sewerage projects to converting Fort Williams into a park, McGovern said, Dennison “made a huge difference to his community.”

This story was updated at 10:00 a.m. Dec. 2, to reflect that ecomaine has 27 owner and associate member communities.


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