State OKs 51-acre expansion at Coventry landfill

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

Vermont’s sole operational landfill is one step closer to a 51-acre addition after Casella Waste Systems’ expansion plan received preliminary approval from the state’s Agency of Natural Resources.

Under a draft certification issued earlier this month, the proposed landfill addition would not be finalized until after public comments are received by the agency.

Casella subsidiary New England Waste Services of Vermont Inc. applied last March for a 10-year recertification of its 78-acre lined landfill and for an expansion on the south side of the existing operation. The certification for the existing area expires in March of 2025.

The Coventry landfill, the last open disposal area in the state, accepted 506,000 tons of trash last year, according to ANR project manager Jeff Bourdeau. He said in an interview Thursday that the landfill is permitted to receive up to 600,000 tons annually, and that Casella has not requested an increase in the amount of waste it can receive.

“This expansion is just an expansion of the property, not an expansion of the service area or amount going in (annually),” said Bourdeau.

Around 70 percent of Vermont’s trash gets sent to Coventry, according to Bourdeau. The rest has been going to landfills in New Hampshire and New York since the state’s other main site in Moretown was shut down in 2013 following repeated violations of the state’s air and water quality laws.

The Coventry landfill would fill up within four or five years without the expansion, according to Bourdeau. With the new acreage, the landfill could keep accepting trash for an additional 22 years, according to the ANR’s public notice.

Though the Coventry landfill does not accept household waste from other states, roughly 25 percen of its waste comes from out-of-state businesses, according to Bourdeau. He described that waste as being “uniform and consistent” trash, such as shingles or siding from construction projects, and said all refuse is “reviewed and approved on an individual basis” by the state before it can go into the landfill.

To receive approval from the state to expand the landfill, Casella had to detail how it would minimize environmental hazards, such as groundwater contamination or noxious odors associated with landfills. Residents of Southbridge, Massachusetts, voted last year to shut down the landfill operated by Casella in their town after contaminants were found in wells of nearby residents.

Casella plans to minimize the risk of landfill leachate — liquid contaminated with landfill pollutants — leaking into groundwater by double-lining the landfill cells and installing a collection system that stores the contaminated fluid in nearby tanks, according to the ANR’s findings of fact.

Casella has agreements with Vermont wastewater treatment plants in Newport, Montpelier, Essex, Barre and Burlington to treat the leachate. It has similar arrangements with Concord, New Hampshire, and Plattsburgh, New York.

The draft certification also says that Casella will install an underdrain that funnels groundwater flowing below the second liner to an outlet 200 feet from wetlands along the Black River. Bourdeau said water quality monitoring above the second liner would detect leaks of contaminated water before that water moves through the underdrain out into the wetlands.

Casella spokesperson Joe Fusco said both the landfill operators and the state regularly inspect the existing landfill to ensure compliance with environmental regulations.

“Leaks in landfills are exceedingly rare,” said Fusco. “The current technology in landfills is highly redundant.”

Kirstie Pecci, director of the Zero Waste Project at the Conservation Law Foundation. Courtesy photo

Casella also would continue to collect and send methane gas produced by the landfill to a nearby Washington Electric Co-op gas-to-energy plant, according to the ANR’s fact sheet.

Kirstie Pecci, a senior fellow with the environmental advocacy group the Conservation Law Foundation, expressed concerns over the proposed expansion in an interview after an initial review of the ANR documents.

She said she does not accept Casella’s assertion that double liners and a leachate collection system will indefinitely prevent contaminants from escaping into the groundwater or from entering the Black River, which flows into Lake Memphremagog.

“Every landfill engineer will tell you that all landfill liners will leak, period,” Pecci said.

Pecci pointed out that Vermont has made significant progress in reducing its waste by enacting the Universal Recycling Law, and that a more than 50-acre expansion of the landfill “creates a business that needs tonnage” from in- or out-of-state trash.

“Casella is going to fill that space if they get it permitted,” Pecci said.

“The best thing that can happen in Vermont right now is to not expand this landfill and stay on course” with its composting and recycling efforts, she said.

Community members can comment on the proposed expansion at a public meeting June 21 at 7 p.m. at the Coventry Community Center. Written comments on the draft certification can be submitted to Bourdeau, the ANR project manager, until July 6.

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