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Bethlehem landfill expansion approved


October 15, 2020
BETHLEHEM — The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services announced the approval of Casella's landfill expansion applications late last week. The decision came at day's end last Friday, despite a great deal of public opposition at the Aug. 25 hearing.

According to Solid Waste Compliance Bureau Executive Secretary Nelson Ordway, the permit modification application was approved with conditions. A 24-page response to public comments was also made available on the DES website.

North Country Environmental Services first applied for a 5.7 acre Stage VI expansion late last year. Casella withdrew the application in April after the corporation received advanced notification from DES that it would be denied as written.

At that time, DES Waste Management Division representative Michael Wimsatt said, "We contacted them as a courtesy, which is what we often do when there is a denial, to let folks know that we saw deficiencies and problems with the application that we believed would preclude its approval. The primary deficiency was that we didn't believe that the application and the proposal for the extension of the landfill met the public benefit requirements of statutes."

Casella filed a revised application with new timelines soon after and a public hearing was scheduled for late August. While the initial application set landfill capacity in 2023, the revision stretched it to 2026 to meet public benefit requirements.

The new application also requested a waiver from new geonet liner system requirements. Casella engineer John Gay said the facility's existing secondary liner system would meet performance standards.

Opponents argued that an adjusted extension did not demonstrate a worthwhile public benefit. The viability of the Stage VI expansion is dependent on the company building a berm that would extend into a different zoning district - one which does not allow landfill activities.

DES addressed zoning concerns in its response. According to division documents, the NHDES processes solid waste facility applications independently of local approvals.

"With regard to local approval for Stage VI, NHDES is aware of the 2012 agreement and a subsequent agreement in 2018 between NCES and the Town of Bethlehem, which place limits on the physical location and height of the landfill, among other matters. During review of the application and in response to public comment, NHDES considered whether the agreements provide a basis to question the applicant's legal right to occupy the property for the purposes stated in the application, and therefore potential grounds for application denial. However, because the 2012 agreement allows landfills in District V and the 2018 agreement allows NCES to construct certain landfill infrastructure outside of District V, NHDES found no apparent reason to believe NCES is without a legal right to occupy the property for the purpose proposed in the application. Therefore, NHDES determined it had no authority to deny the application on that basis," stated the document.

The DES approval allows for an additional disposal capacity of approximately 1.24 million cubic yards of air space. Casella has 90 days to submit copies of its approved operating and closure plans to DES and must still seek construction approval. Written appeals against the decision must be filed directly to the NH Waste Management Council by Nov. 8.

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