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Concerns abound at landfill permit hearing


January 22, 2014
BETHLEHEM — Ten Department of Environmental Services employees heard many different concerns about the Trudeau Road landfill on Thursday evening. DES held the hearing to gain local input on a new permit application from the facility, operated by North Country Environmental Services (NCES). NCES is a wholly owned subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems, of Rutland, Vt.

No supporter of the facility spoke during the three-hour gathering. After an overview of the permit process, attendees asked several clarifying questions. To conclude the session, six provided oral testimony.

The proposed permit is based on Title V of the national Clean Air Act. Both state and federal requirements govern how landfills are to decrease the environmental and public health risk of air emissions. Barbara Dorfschmidt, Senior State Permit Engineer, provided attendees an overview of Title V and the NCES landfill.

Because of the size of the NCES landfill and the amount of gases created, the site had to seek the Title V permit. Dorfschmidt said three courses of action are possible. The permit could be granted as proposed, amended and then granted, or denied.

How NCES operations are monitored was a central concern for those at the hearing. Computer models test the ambient air quality of the samples NCES provides. Integrity checks and surface scans are also used, Dorfschmidt said, to ensure the landfill's cover has not been compromised. Methane monitors are used during surface scans to detect possible problems, she continued.

DES records show NCES has passed all evaluations of its regulatory compliance. Such a conclusion did not satisfy those who have doubts about the state's landfill oversight process.

Rita Farrell questioned the integrity of a regulatory system, because air quality samples are provided by NCES. Asked whether the state oversees the collection of the samples, DES manager Pam Monroe said, "I don't believe we're there on every single test." She did say the samples go to an independent lab.

Farrell replied, "I'm looking for conflict of interest and the chain of evidence." Monroe said neither Casella nor NCES has an ownership interest in the lab testing the samples, which is in California. Even with Monroe's assurances, Farrell was unconvinced. She doubted the value of a process so "dependent on the operator of the landfill."

Jeanne Robillard asked Monroe what "deal breakers" could occur that would lead to denial of the permit. Monroe said the state has "a number of tools in our tool box" to deal with non-compliance. She did not wish to speculate on a particular incident, because penalties for regulatory violations depend on what the state finds.

Hearing attendees suggested more should be done to detect any possible landfill health impacts. Farrell said blood tests were one means to safeguard the public. DES employee Dennis Pinski responded, "I'm not sure what that would look for or what that would accomplish."

Don Lavoie wondered if budget cuts affect the ability of DES to properly oversee landfills. Craig Wright, Director of the DES Air Resources Division, said about two-thirds of his budget comes from permitting and monitoring fees. The federal funds that make up the rest of the division's funding has been "fairly stable," Wright added.

After the varied questions, six people offered testimony. Fallon O'Brien was "upset that we're taking trash from all over New England." Farrell's testimony repeated her concerns about the integrity of monitoring process, as well as the visual impact of what she dubbed "Mt. Casella."

Andrea Bryant expressed her frustration with NCES. Living near the landfill, she said, "I don't open the windows during the summer" due to odors. She also hoped for further study about the incidence of cancer around landfills.

Robillard expressed a concern that "there's no definitive way' for DES or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "to know exactly what's going on" at NCES. Julian Czarny provided information about upslope winds capable of blowing gas and odors onto properties and homes around the landfill.

Seth Goldstein provided the longest testimony. During the clarifying questions portion of the hearing, Goldstein had expressed concern that NCES may be able to continue operations under temporary permits, even if the Title V permit was denied.

Goldstein submitted several documents for the record to show his concerns about the landfill. "I think that there are good people at DES" who can oversee landfills, he said. Regarding NCES, however, Goldstein added, "You guys have them [DES] on too short a leash."

He considered the overall landfill monitoring process "ludicrous" and "mind bogglingly nave." Goldstein also mentioned his concern about possible landfill fires and environmental contamination. "I'm very disgusted with the system," he added.

Throughout the evening, DES pledged to consider all public comments. The agency has extended the public comment period through January 31. Information about the permit is available in the town hall. The draft permit and application can also be downloaded at: http://www2.des.state.nh.us/DESOnestop/BasicSearch.aspx. The ID for the NCES documents is 3300990255.

The timeframe for a decision on the permit was not provided at the hearing.

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