Bristol still wrestling with landfill closing plan

BRISTOL — Representatives from Casella Waste Systems on Monday met with the Bristol selectboard to discuss a possible deal through which the trash hauler would help the town fill and close its landfill.
Bristol officials reached out to the Rutland waste management company after efforts to get the state to help pay for landfill closing costs were unsuccessful.
Last year, at the request of state officials, the town agreed to close the landfill at the end of 2016. First used in the first half of the 20th century, it is one of only two unlined landfills left in the state. The other is in Salisbury.
Bristol had been budgeting to close its landfill in 2029, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation pressured to town to close earlier because of environmental concerns, since unlined landfills do not filter contaminants before they enter groundwater.
Vermont in 1987 banned the construction of new unlined landfills, but permitted existing sites to remain in use so long as municipalities contributed to a closure fund.
To date, Bristol has saved about $600,000 towards an estimated $1.5 million in closure costs for the landfill. The selectboard believes it can save taxpayers money by working with Casella, since more trash in the landfill would mean a smaller surface area to blanket with expensive covering material.
Any agreement the town drafts with Casella will have to be approved by the Department of Environmental Conservation. The town first pitched the idea of working with Casella to the DEC back in January, but the state objected to it. A DEC official explained to the Independent that it does not believe it would be environmentally responsible to permit an unlined landfill to accept waste on a commercial scale, when there are lined landfills in the state for that purpose.
In order to accept commercial waste on a scale that is large enough to make an arrangement with Casella realistic, Bristol would also need an exemption from the Legislature to a state law that limits unlined landfills from accepting more than 1,000 tons of waste annually. The town only accepted 350 tons last year, and would not come close to reaching that cap, or filling the landfill by the end of next year.
In response to the DEC’s stance, Bristol officials felt frustrated. After all, Bristol agreed to the state’s request to close its landfill earlier than it had budgeted, but now the state seems unwilling to help pay for the faster closure. Last fall, the town asked the Agency of Natural Resources, which oversees the DEC, to contribute toward the estimated $900,000 the town still needs to close the landfill, but the agency said it had no money.
To make matters worse, the Legislature used to keep a fund specifically to help towns close their unlined landfills. But that fund dried up after the Legislature gave Shaftsbury $350,000 to close its landfill in the past decade.
Bristol’s delegates to the House of Representatives, Republican Fred Baser and Democrat David Sharpe, have spent much of this Legislative session looking for funding. But as legislators struggle to close a budget gap in excess of $100 million, money to close the dump is hard to come by.
Bristol landfill manager Merle Knight said the landfill is slated to be open for residents to dump their trash right through December 31, 2016.

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