After months of legal and regulatory wrangling, the state has reached a settlement with Moretown Landfill.
The facility must shut down. The agreement has a loophole, however: The landfill can open a new cell as long as it stops accepting waste in the active cell by July 15.
The Moretown Landfill has been cited for a number of environmental violations by the Agency of Natural Resources over the last 14 years, including groundwater contamination, uncontrolled odors, windblown trash and exposed hazardous waste. At first the state slapped the landfill with fines. In recent years, however, there have been no penalties, only warnings.
Last year, the odors at the landfill suddenly worsened after the company that owns the facility, Advanced Disposal, began to accept septic sludge from Massachusetts cities. The smell was so bad, some neighbors couldn’t stay in their homes, even with the doors and windows shut. Neighbors formed a group to protest the landfill’s practices, one couple hired a lawyer, and the state told the landfill it had to shut down. Landfill officials appealed the state’s decision, taking the issue to the state environmental court. The settlement is a result of that process.
Although Moretown residents were not included in the settlement discussions, the Burlington Free Press reports that neighbors of the landfill will be involved in negotiations with the landfill and the state outside of court this coming week. The state anticipates filing the consent order, which finalizes the settlement, by July 19.
In a statement released after the settlement was reached, the Moretown Landfill stated, “Since assuming operations of the landfill last fall, The Company has invested over $1 million in infrastructure and operational improvements to the facility and successfully addressed and eliminated all odor issues and complaints.”
In addition to closing the active cell, Moretown Landfill will have to submit plans for managing odors and groundwater pollution.
The Moretown Landfill sits upslope of the Winooski River, adjacent to Route 2, and not far from Interstate 89. It is surrounded by residences and businesses, some of which complain of odors and other environmental violations, some of which do not.
The Moretown Landfill pays the town of Moretown a hefty host fee—sometimes more than $500,000 a year. Many residents and town officials are in favor of the landfill because the fee funds a large part of the town’s budget and lowers property taxes.
Landfill officials have previously stated that the company will pursue certification for a fourth, new cell. As reported in the Burlington Free Press, an attorney for the landfill said the company intends to apply for a fourth cell this winter.
In addition to the state wrangles with the landfill, Moretown and the landfill disagree about how much the landfill owes the town for the host fee for fiscal year 2012-2013. The selectboard asked the landfill in June to cough up an additional $300,000, saying they had received less than $50,000 for the whole year. The landfill is required to pay the town a minimum of $350,000 a year. That amount goes up the more waste the landfill accepts.
“We’ve been good to the landfill,” said Moretown selectboard chair Tom Martin. “That support has come with certain limits and conditions. We are going to hold them to that contract.”
Martin said the town received a check for just $200 last month from the landfill. They typically expect $29,000 a month.
“They were in negotiations with the state in the last few weeks and perhaps things didn’t go as well as they would have liked,” said Martin.
According to the landfill operators, it has paid the town more than $200,000 in the last fiscal year. In its response to the selectboard’s request, the landfill pointed out a stipulation in the contract that if the landfill is closed due to regulatory difficulties with the state, it doesn’t have to pay as much to the town—but that stipulation requires that it not be the fault of the landfill. As a result, the landfill says it owes the town just $120,000.
Martin doesn’t buy it. Plus, he’s bothered the landfill would pull a move like this, when the relationship has been amicable for years.
“Any time that you have a relationship and people decide not to abide by the rules, then it certainly does put a wedge in that relationship,” he said.
Moretown has to set its 2013 tax rates in the next few weeks; not knowing how much it will receive from the landfill makes that task difficult.