Environment

Stymied elsewhere, Casella looks to keep Vermont landfill growing

The only lined landfill operating in the state is in Coventry. File photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

The state’s largest landfill in Coventry is set to expand by 52 acres if regulators approve the permit application by Casella Waste Systems submitted this summer.

The landfill currently occupies around 100 acres, with 3 or 4 of those acres in active use at any given time, according to Jeff Bourdeau, a solid waste program staffer with Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation. It is the only lined landfill operating in the state since one in Moretown shut down several years ago.

The “vast majority” of what goes into the Coventry landfill originates in Vermont, but some amount of waste does come from other states, Casella Vice President Joe Fusco said.

The interstate commerce clause could make it impossible for the state to forbid Casella from accepting out-of-state waste — even if regulators wanted to, Bourdeau said.

Cathy Jamieson, the DEC’s solid waste program manager, said waste accepted from elsewhere in New England is tested and approved by regulators before it is accepted at the landfill.

No residential trash from other states currently goes into the Coventry landfill, Jamieson said. All municipalities must write a plan that Vermont regulators approve before they can dump trash in the landfill, and no municipalities outside Vermont have sought to get such plans approved, she said.

But other waste — such as soil and certain roofing materials — can come to Coventry from out of state, and on average there are around two applications every week from out-of-state companies or individuals seeking to unload there, Bourdeau said.

Bourdeau said he hasn’t heard of plans to increase the amount of such waste that goes into the Coventry landfill. Fusco said his company has no such plans.

The expansion isn’t for the purpose of taking in more waste in the short term, Fusco said. The additional landfill space will ensure that Casella can continue operating for decades, he said.

Casella’s request for more space has nothing to do with the impending closure of another Casella landfill in Southbridge, Massachusetts, Fusco said.

“There’s no connection at all,” Fusco said. “Development plans for the landfill in Coventry were put into motion and thought about far in advance of any decisions made about the Southbridge landfill.”

“Northern Vermont isn’t necessarily a solution at all in any way to Massachusetts’ waste challenges,” Fusco added.

In a nonbinding referendum in June, Southbridge residents voted against allowing Casella to expand its landfill there. Company officials announced last month that they plan to close that landfill when it reaches capacity, expected by December 2018.

What happened there should be instructive to Vermonters, said Kirstie Pecci, a senior fellow with the Conservation Law Foundation who has been helping residents in towns near the Massachusetts landfill fight its expansion.

Pecci said Southbridge and surrounding communities have battled Casella for years over landfill contaminants that have been found in private wells. That was behind residents’ vote this summer against allowing Casella to expand the landfill, she said.

The Coventry landfill leaks, too, she said, and documents from Casella’s application show numerous contaminants have been found in water supplies near the landfill.

“The problem is not Casella — the problem is that landfilling is very unsafe,” she said.

“All landfills leak,” Pecci said. “They’re always going to leak. … That’s not a maybe, that’s an absolute truth.”

The more landfills contain, the more they leak, she said.

Pecci said 80 percent of the material sent to New England landfills could be recycled or composted.

Vermont is fortunate in having put laws in place that require recycling and soon will require widespread composting, Pecci said.

The last two years have seen a 5 percent decrease and a 3.5 percent decrease in the amount of solid waste Vermonters put in landfills, Pecci said.

“If you do these kinds of decreases every year, that’s a big change,” she said.

On the other hand, Pecci said, “If you have more capacity, you’re going to use more capacity.”

That should give Vermonters pause, she said.

“Vermonters should make sure they protect themselves as much as possible, because the Coventry landfill is leaking,” she said. “Anything they allow Casella to do should be with that in mind.”

Casella’s application for a permit was deemed administratively complete last month, and state regulators have asked the company for additional technical documents before their evaluation of the application begins, Jamieson said.

It’s likely to be spring before a draft permit will be ready for public review and comments, Bourdeau said.

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