Bristol again at odds with state over landfill

BRISTOL — Bristol officials believe they have found a way to close the town landfill more quickly and cheaply than previously anticipated, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation has said it will not support the plan.

With the state’s support, Bristol agreed last fall to close the landfill, one of only two unlined dumps left in the state, when its current certification expires at the end of 2016. Town officials said the DEC pledged to help Bristol close and seal the site, which could cost more than $1 million, but say the state is not living up to its end of the bargain.

Town Administrator Therese Kirby reported at Monday’s selectboard meeting that the town had been in talks with Casella Waste Systems to allow the Rutland trash hauler to dump waste into the landfill. Kirby said that Casella said it also could take over the day-to-day management of the landfill, and take responsibility for closing it.

On Tuesday Kirby said that Casella has experience in this area; in recent years the company managed the closure of a municipal landfill in Colebrook, N.H.

Selectman John “Peeker” Heffernan said working with Casella could bring huge savings to taxpayers. Currently, the town estimates landfill closure will cost about $1.5 million, and has saved about $600,000 towards that goal.

The town asked the state to kick in funds to help it raise the additional $900,000 needed, but the Agency of Natural Resources (which oversees the DEC) said it had no money. Heffernan said if Casella takes over operation and closure of the landfill, it would produce a positive outcome for everyone.

“If there’s enough volume there, it could end up being zero cost to the taxpayer, and to the state,” Heffernan said. “We’ve asked the state for money and any other kind of assistance, and basically they’ve said there’s nothing.”

But there’s an obstacle standing in Bristol’s way: State statute prohibits unlined landfills from accepting more than 1,000 tons of waste annually. Bristol currently accepts much less than that limit, but if Casella began using the landfill for commercial operation, the cap would need to be lifted.

DEC OBJECTS

Kirby said she and Heffernan pitched the idea of working with Casella to the DEC during a conference call last week, but it did not receive a warm reception.

Dennis Fekert of the DEC said only the Legislature can amend the 1,000-ton limit, since it is state law, but the department would not support the Casella plan even if the cap were lifted. Fekert explained that the DEC 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.

“The Legislature can do what it wants, but we would not support the request because in this day and age, these lined landfills are highly engineered to protect human health and the environment,” he said. “For us to support this landfill taking in solid waste beyond the 1,000-ton limit, it’d be against program integrity.”

Fekert said DEC would continue to look for funds to help Bristol, but acknowledged that with a large budget gap in Montpelier, finding money is unlikely.

“We’re working with them on it,” Fekert said. “There’s time to get the closure fund where it needs to be.”

In the meantime, Fekert said the DEC is committed to working with Bristol to lower the cost of closure by finding a covering material that is cheaper than clay. Bristol is exploring synthetic covering materials that could lower the closure price tag from $1.5 million.

Kirby and Heffernan said they are disappointed that the DEC rejected the town’s proposed solution, and feel the state has not been willing to compromise with the town.

“It just seems unreasonable,” Kirby said. “Once we agreed to close, ANR/DEC agreed to be of assistance to us, and so far we have not seen that.”

Since state officials have balked at the Casella idea, Bristol has turned to its representatives in Montpelier, Reps. David Sharpe and Fred Baser, for help. Baser said he and Sharpe would press the issue at the Statehouse.

“Both Dave and I are involved with a landfill closure plan, one that will hopefully limit any additional taxpayer dollars,” Baser said. “This will entail working with the appropriate parties at the state level as well as people like Casella in order to find solutions.”

In the meantime, Bristol officials said they’re still looking for additional funds for closing the landfill.

“We’re back to being stuck,” Kirby said. “Our plan is to move forward with what it takes to close the landfill while we try to sort these things out. We’re still going to pursue an option with Casella.”

If the town cannot raise enough money, it may have to ask residents to approve a bond — an option the selectboard has said is a last resort.

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