The state has given Moretown Landfill officials until Monday to “clearly and convincingly demonstrate” that they can control odors wafting from the facility or it will be forced to close early next year. This would leave Vermont with just one commercial landfill, in Coventry.
“Because there have been so many odor problems, not just this summer, but for the last 13 years, we’ve got some concerns about their ability to meet that part of the certification,” said Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz on the phone last week.
The Burlington Free Press reported on Dec. 4 that Markowitz said Moretown Landfill’s closure would not be a crisis. “There are lots of places to take the trash, but it does mean more travel, more cost,” Markowitz told reporter Candace Page.
But on the phone last week with VTDigger, Markowitz said, “Understand that this is a significant issue for the state in that if Moretown Landfill were to close, the changes will create some significant financial issues for the town of Moretown as well as significantly impacting our haulers and our solid waste districts and it would also leave Vermont with just one lined landfill.”
“But that being said, we have a law to follow,” she added.
Markowitz said Wednesday that she had met with solid waste district administrators and they told her that the closing of Moretown Landfill would not be a significant financial or logistical problem for them, except for the Mad River Valley Resource Management Alliance.
The state last week reclassified the groundwater as non-potable, giving the landfill time to remediate before being cited for more violations.
“Obviously, the cost of transportation would expand and that’s just the reality of what would be there,” said John Malter, that group’s administrator.
In a Nov. 27 letter to the landfill, Justin Johnson, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, wrote “Despite adequate time … to ensure control of offsite [sic] odors, the facility continues to cause objectionable odors off site.”
Johnson said he’s not familiar with the technical aspects of what a clear and convincing demonstration of the landfill’s ability to control odors would be, but that “it would have to be something more than what we’ve seen in the past because they obviously haven’t been able to control [odors] in the past.”
He said the landfill would have to address engineering and ongoing operational concerns, but the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) isn’t hopeful that the landfill will be successful.
“We’ve been very clear to them that we’re not seeing how it will work,” Johnson said. “The challenge with the odor is that they’ve already done a lot of things to try to deal with it and it just doesn’t work. … It’s fundamentally a siting problem.”
Mark Harlacker, the vice president of Moretown Landfill, Inc., was not available for comment by press time.
The landfill is located off Route 2 in Moretown, with residences close by on three sides. It’s also in a valley, where odors tend to settle. Moretown Landfill has been in operation for about 30 years.
For the last 13 years, ANR has been citing the landfill for odor and other environmental violations. Neighbors say the bad smells have gotten much worse in the last year, and that now they are so bad they sometimes gag when they go outside.
The other major environmental concern, said Johnson, is that the groundwater coming from under the landfill exceeds state standards for arsenic, manganese and iron. The state last week reclassified the groundwater as non-potable, giving the landfill time to remediate before being cited for more violations. According to Johnson, the landfill plans to route groundwater around the landfill, so that it does not become polluted before flowing into the Winooski River.
Johnson expects ANR to make a decision by Wednesday whether the landfill can continue operating in cell three and re-open cell two.
Up for review are applications for recertification in cell three — the landfill has been operating on an expired permit there for several years — and for reopening cell two, which was closed in 2004. Cell two has since settled, leaving room for more trash. Even if both of these applications are approved, the landfill will be completely full by next summer or fall.
The landfill has also applied to expand into a new cell, called cell four, which would add 20 years to its life. ANR is considering the first two applications first, giving the landfill more time to demonstrate that expansion would not result in continued environmental violations.
According to Johnson, the landfill will submit a proposal on Friday and ANR’s technical staff will review it early next week. Johnson expects ANR to make a decision by Wednesday whether the landfill can continue operating in cell three and re-open cell two. The published decision will be followed by a public comment period, after which it becomes final.
The landfill can then appeal ANR’s decision or submit a different application. Both these options would take long enough that if ANR denies the current applications, the landfill will have to stop operating.
Johnson said ANR will give the landfill a schedule to gear down operations and start the closure process.
The landfill has a multi-million dollar bond to pay for closure and 30 years of post-closure monitoring and management.
The landfill dropped its rate of trash intake by 80 percent last week to enable it to stay in operation while waiting for its applications to be reviewed.
The town of Moretown receives more than $500,000 a year from the landfill as a host fee. The loss of this income, as well as the property tax and other contributions the landfill makes could increase property taxes in Moretown. The town has been saving a portion of the host fee for years, partly in preparation for the landfill’s closing.
Moretown Landfill is also applying for expansion with the Moretown Development Review Board. On Dec. 3, it requested that the town hearings be postponed until February so that the landfill “may focus all its immediate efforts and attention on its operations at the existing site.”
Neighbors of the landfill have been complaining for years about the odors, as well as blasting damage to their homes, dust, noise, and groundwater pollution concerns.
Tom Moreau, administrator of the Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD), said that 20 years ago, when CSWD was looking for a landfill, officials considered the Moretown Landfill but decided against it. Moreau said an engineer told CSWD, “Hey, this one’s got issues,” including high potential for groundwater pollution and odor complaints.
“It doesn’t mean it’s the world’s worst site, it’s just a chancier site,” said Moreau.
Moreau also mentioned some confusion about the state’s stance on Moretown Landfill. Solid waste district administrators met with Markowitz and ANR technical staff last Wednesday. Moreau got the impression from that meeting that the state was very unlikely to approve continued operations at the landfill.
“This week I find it’s less sure,” he said. Moreau said he’s heard rumors from colleagues in the solid waste industry that “this is not such a closed deal.” Moreau declined to reveal who these colleagues are.
“Are they true rumors?” he asked. “I have no clue. None.”
Coventry Landfill manager Kevin Roy told VTDigger in October that it had applied to the state for permission to increase its trash intake in the event that Moretown Landfill closes. VTDigger was unable to reach Roy today to learn whether Coventry has received permission.