The Moretown Landfill will be reducing the rate it takes in waste by 80 percent starting Dec. 1 because it is running out of space, according to a letter from the general manager, Tom Badowski, to the Moretown Selectboard earlier this month. If the landfill does not reduce the intake rate, it will be full by February. Reducing the waste stream would give the landfill until roughly the end of next year to find other options for increasing its capacity.
The landfill has applied to the state for permission to add trash on top of a closed cell, called cell two, that has settled as much as 30 feet in some places. Doing so would add about seven months to the life of the landfill. The landfill has also applied to both the state and the town for permission to expand into a fourth cell. That expansion is strongly opposed by neighbors, who say the landfill’s activities are reducing their quality of life.
The landfill pays a host fee to the town of Moretown that varies with the amount of trash it takes in; last year, that figure was around $525,000. According to Clark Amadon, the vice chairman of the Moretown Selectboard, Moretown uses most of that money to reduce the property tax rate by 14 to 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. With a reduction in the waste stream will come a reduction in the host fee of about $400,000.
Moretown officials have not yet planned their budget for next year, so there’s no telling how this loss will be distributed.
If Moretown stops offsetting the property tax rate, the owner of “a $250,000 house would probably see their taxes go up $500, $550, so that’s pretty significant for most people,” said Amadon. “The town is going to go through a period of adjustment and the town is going to have to decide how we’re going to address that decrease in revenues.” The change could affect school and municipal revenues.
Amadon said the town has been saving part of the host fee for more than a decade, but not necessarily in preparation for the day the landfill closes. Nonetheless, “the town knew that this day would come at some point,” he said.
As for where the waste that the landfill turns away will go, Badowski said it’s up to the customers who generate that waste to find a new landfill. “We’re going to help as much as we can,” he said.
According to Badowski, who is a Moretown school director, the landfill has a $4 million or $5 million bond to pay for closure as well as for monitoring and maintenance for the following 30 years.
As for where the waste that the landfill turns away will go, Badowski said it’s up to the customers who generate that waste to find a new landfill. “We’re going to help as much as we can,” he said. He would not reveal who those customers were.
In addition to the host fee, Badowski said the landfill pays between $210,000 and $250,000 a year in property tax to the town of Moretown. That number will also drop by 80 percent because the landfill is considered a limited-life asset.
The landfill also offers a nearly 90 percent discount on trash disposal to Moretown residents, free disposal for town buildings, free recycling, and 5,000 cubic yards of earthen material every year that the town uses for road maintenance. When Tropical Storm Irene hit, the landfill collected and disposed of flood debris at no cost, even though doing so reduced its capacity. Badowski said “there’s a good possibility” these services will be affected by the reduction in waste intake, too.
According to John Malter, the administrator of the Mad River Resource Management Alliance, the Moretown Landfill’s closure would affect more than just Moretown residents. The Mad River Resource Management Alliance is the solid waste management district that serves Waterbury, Duxbury, Moretown, Fayston, Waitsfield, Northfield, Warren and Roxbury. These communities receive free recycling and reduced costs of household hazardous waste collection because of the alliance’s partnership with the Moretown Landfill.
“If we’re not able to utilize that [partnership], that’ll be a portion of our budget that will be eliminated,” said Malter.
Malter emailed Badowski’s letter to the administrators of other solid waste management districts, writing, “Any support that can be given to encourage the State to approve the interim reconfiguration plan for Cell 2 would help eleviate [sic] a potential capacity issue in this area.”
“My reason for sending that around is to make sure the communities are aware of this,” said Malter by phone. “It will certainly have an impact.”
Moretown Landfill will also have to lay off three or four employees, said Badowski. The landfill currently employs 10 people.
Neighbors of the landfill have organized a group called Citizens for Landfill Environmental Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) to protest some of the landfill’s activities. They say that the odors are so strong they sometimes gag when they go outside. They also say the blasting the landfill does to collect earthen material to cover the landfill has damaged some of their homes. Neighbors are also concerned about toxins from the landfill seeping into the groundwater and contaminating their wells.
In the letter to the selectboard, dated Nov. 2, Badowski wrote, “Please know that I am greatly appreciative of the support and partnership that has [sic] existed for years between the Town and the Moretown Landfill and truly hope that it will continue well into the future. The landfill has made every attempt to mitigate concerns that have been raised by the community and has participated financially and in-kind in the success and growth of the community.”
When asked whether the letter could have been a ploy by the landfill to push the permit approval process along, Amadon said, “I think it’s a little bit of a cynical way of reading it.” He took the letter at face value.
When Badowski was asked the same question, he said, “We didn’t want them to have any surprises. That was the intent. These guys have worked cooperatively with us so we’re just trying to give them a heads up.”
Martha Douglass, the spokeswoman for CLEAR, sees a strategy behind the letter.
“I guess I just feel like it’s just another strategy that they’re using to try to make things last as long as possible in order to wear down the resistance to everything that’s going on,” she said.
She pointed out that if the landfill is taking in less waste, odors will be reduced, which would reduce the neighbors’ complaints, “and that would certainly help their strategy.”
The Moretown Development Review Board is currently reviewing the landfill’s application for expansion.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt [the landfill] to have people on the board knowing that their town is going to be negatively affected,” said Douglass. “It certainly doesn’t help our cause.”
The host town agreement that expired in 2011 between the town and the landfill dictated that the town would support the expansion of cell four, including “… without limitation, written representation that Moretown is in favor of the permitting of Cell 3 and Cell 4. …” A more recent host town agreement was not available by press time.
Does it seem likely the cell two reconfiguration and the cell four expansion will be approved?
“I’m ever the optimist. I think they both are promising,” said Badowski.
The next Development Review Board meeting will address neighbor testimonies about odors. It will be held at 6:30 on Nov. 20 at Moretown Town Hall.