Grassroots organization DUMP has agreed to drop its appeal of the Coventry landfill’s solid waste permit, moving landfill owner Casella Waste Systems one step closer to a 51-acre expansion.
DUMP LLC — an acronym for Don’t Undermine Memphremagog’s Purity — reached a settlement agreement earlier this month with landfill owner Casella Waste Systems that will put in place increased odor monitoring and other measures. The parties filed a notice to dismiss the appeal in the Vermont Superior Court’s Environmental Division Monday.
The settlement agreement represents the latest development in almost a year and a half of opposition by some local residents and neighboring Canadians to Casella’s plan to expand the landfill by 51 acres.
“I think the outcome will benefit the public,” said Henry Coe, a Barton resident who has served as a coordinator of DUMP.
Last October, the state Agency of Natural Resources’ Department of Environmental Conservation issued a final solid waste certification approving a 10-year continuation of the existing landfill and an expansion to its south. Members of DUMP LLC filed an appeal shortly after seeking to overturn that approval.
In the appeal, the group alleged that in issuing the certificate DEC did not adequately address concerns about water pollution, air pollution and traffic impact.
The expansion has faced steep opposition from nearby residents, neighboring Canadians and multiple conservation groups concerned about the landfill’s location in the far northern part of the state near Lake Memphremagog — a border-straddling source of drinking water.
One particular concern was that Casella was sending leachate to be treated at Newport’s wastewater treatment plant on the Clyde River, which flows into Memphremagog. The state has found elevated levels of PFAS in leachate tested from closed landfills around the state, with Coventry — the state’s only open landfill — testing the highest. The PFAS levels were below the state’s recommended levels for leachate destined for wastewater treatment plants.
Residents near the landfill have raised concerns that state employees based in Montpelier cannot respond in a timely enough fashion to odor complaints. Under a previous permit, Casella could not receive a violation from the state unless someone from DEC or Casella confirmed an off-site odor.
This January, Casella received an Act 250 permit for the expansion. The Act 250 review panel required the company to hire a full-time, third party odor monitor who lived nearby and not send landfill leachate to be treated in Newport, among other conditions.
Coe said that the volunteer group decided to drop the appeal for financial reasons, although they felt, through their exhaustive review of the permit application materials and other items reported to the state, that they “could have made a strong case in court.” He added that DUMP would continue to act as a “watchdog” organization keeping an eye on landfill activities for local residents.
The settlement agreement requires Casella to hire an independent engineer to assess odor control measures at the landfill. Casella cannot treat leachate in the Lake Memphremagog watershed until 2024 — and must ensure leachate treatment after that date would address PFAS, an emerging contaminant of concern globally.
The agreement also requires Casella to provide DUMP with copies of any permit applications and monitoring reports submitted to the state.
“It’s our hope that there will be more accountability from the officials that … agree to serve through ANR,” Coe said of the requirements in the settlement agreement.
One item not included in the settlement agreement that DUMP had hoped to address was pushing Casella to commit to a date for closing the Coventry landfill, said Coe.
Joe Fusco, vice president of Casella, said that the waste management company was happy to provide DUMP with “direct and convenient access” to copies of permits and other information reported to the state about the landfill.
Casella disagrees that the landfill opponents would have succeeded with an appeal.
“From our perspective, every Vermont citizen can be very confident that the men and women of the Agency provide thorough and expert oversight of this facility, and the entire solid waste infrastructure in the state,” he said.
Casella began on-site preparations for the expansion this fall and will work on the expansion through next year.
Emily Boedecker, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said that while the state had not been involved in the settlement negotiations, DEC was pleased that the two parties had found a path forward.
“This is the one and only functioning landfill in the state so we do have a great degree of attention to all the permit conditions and the reports that come in as a result of that,” she said.
One of the conditions of the DEC solid waste permit was that Casella report on options for pre-treating leachate from the Coventry landfill to reduce levels of PFAS, before it goes to wastewater treatment plants. Casella submitted that report and another on PFAS levels in incoming waste to the state last month. Boedecker said the state is still reviewing those reports, which will likely factor into requirements in a pre-treatment wastewater permit Casella needs to obtain.
The Coventry landfill is permitted to take up to 600,000 tons of trash per year with a maximum of 5,000 tons allowed a day. The facility accepts about 70% of the state’s municipal trash and out-of-state waste, including coal ash and construction debris, which must be approved by state officials.
With the new acreage, the landfill will have enough capacity to accept waste for around 22 more years.
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