June 18, 2014BETHLEHEM— The Department of Environmental Services has taken the next step to grant North Country Environmental Services (NCES) a Title V permit, required under the federal Clean Air Act. On June 10, DES sent the draft permit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has 45 days to make any objections.
The landfill and NCES, a wholly owned subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems of Rutland, Vt., have been a subject of debate in Bethlehem for several years. Two years ago, voters authorized a settlement agreement, including a ten-acre expansion of the landfill located on Trudeau Road. A separate permit application for the landfill expansion remains under DES review.
Several residents spoke out against the landfill at multiple public hearings this year. The hearings are a required part of the permit process.
Documents DES released last Tuesday included 13 pages of response to public comments. Concerns landfill opponents expressed ranged from health effects, perceptions that DES does not adequately oversee the site, and the potential for problems related to the landfill's attempts to burn off gases created naturally as waste decays.
Some of the DES analysis focused on public concerns about a rise in cancer cases in Bethlehem. The agency cited a 2009 state study conducted near the landfill that determined "exposures to site-related contaminants was not expected to result in adverse health effects."
Another state review, published in 2013, examined a suspected cluster of cancer in Bethlehem. That analysis, undertaken by the Office of Health Statistics and Data Management, did not find atypical rates of cancer in the surrounding area. There was no "common factor," DES wrote last week, "related to the occurrence of pancreatic and breast cancer in Bethlehem."
DES reiterated its regulatory authority over NCES operations throughout the response to comments. Even though DES personnel are not always present when NCES collects samples of landfill gas for analysis, "DES always maintains the authority to be present during any sampling event and will exercise that authority as warranted." NCES is required to submit air samples to an independent lab at least three times a year.
Regarding results of the samples, DES wrote, "NCES has not shown that the gas make-up would cause a violation of any air quality standard."
DES also rejects the idea that the flares used to burn off landfill gas require further oversight. "Testing of open flares, while technically possible," DES noted, "is difficult, costly, and provides limited informational value beyond what is already known." Nonetheless, "DES can always require testing in the future if there are any indications that the flares are not operating as expected."
Barbara Dorfschmidt, a DES Air Resources Division staff member, spoke about the Title V permit last week. The permit, now under EPA review, "only covers the existing operations" at the NCES site, she said. If the proposed expansion is approved, another air permit would be required, Dorfschmidt continued, to cover the increased landfill gas mitigation needed.
A person aggrieved by the decision to issue the proposed Title V permit can file an appeal with the Air Resources Council (ARC) by 4 p.m. on July 10. Last week, Dorfschmidt said ARC is "an independent board that's appointed by the Governor," not a part of DES.
Rules governing the appeal process require someone to demonstrate more than opposition to the landfill in order for the case to be heard. An appellant must have standing to bring the appeal. This requires "a direct and adverse affect or injury" from the permit decision, according to the Code of Administrative Rules, Env-AC 204.02. Effects justifying standing must be "actual and imminent," as well as "particularized to the appellant" in a way "more than any impact of the decision on the general public."