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Residents ask selectmen next step vs. landfill

Concerned recent DES decision on expansion ends struggle

September 18, 2010
BETHLEHEM–The recent approval of expansion of the Trudeau Road landfill by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) has some residents questioning what to do next in the town's long struggle against it.

On Aug. 27 DES approved expansion of the landfill upwards using berms to contain waste within its current 51-acre footprint, beyond which it is forbidden from expanding by a town zoning ordinance. The landfill is owned by North Country Environmental Services (NCES), a subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems, of Rutland, Vt. Though NCES has been fighting the zoning ordinance in court, in order to continue to use the facility, NCES' engineers designed a model that will allow them to in essence circumvent the zoning ordinance by expanding upward.

The approval expanded capacity of the landfill by about 1 million cubic yards of material, giving it an additional life of about 10 years. The just approved application was the third attempt to expand using berms. The first was denied because DES has concerns with previously proposed five to one slopes of the berms (it now is proposed to use a slope of three to one); the second was denied because of water quality. At two public hearings over the summer, residents expressed concerns about all of those issues, as well as others about whether Casella is financially solvent and has a plan to close the landfill in case of a catastrophic failure.

Several residents spoke during Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting about DES' decision, expressing their opinion about the decision and asked the selectmen what they intend to do in the ongoing legal battle with NCES.

"I hope the DES decision doesn't end it," resident Rita Farrell said. "You don't have to put up with this decision. This can be appealed." The selectmen did not respond.

She said that it seemed DES was willing to give NCES whatever it asked for.

Farrell said that because of the landfill, Bethlehem is now known as "a dump town." She said the town went from being a place where timber was harvested and with busy sawmills to a place with hotels scattered throughout the town. She remembered when the town was a destination community, with Main Street as busy as 42nd Street in New York. For a time the town was in a slump, when the town was a ghost town and the Colonial Theater showed x-rated movies. Now Bethlehem is recovering financially, Farrell said. It has visitors again and many small businesses have played a role in revitalizing downtown, but Farrell said the landfill cannot help at all in that revival. The landfill with newly approved capacity will chase business away, she said.

"Businesses can go elsewhere," Farrell said.

Bethlehem has suffered from having over 2 million tons of trash brought within its borders, considering the town has never produced more than 500 tons of waste in one year, Farrell said. She said water has been contaminated and people have gotten cancer.

Seth Goldstein, another resident noted for his opposition to the landfill, spoke briefly about leaks coming from specific test wells, which showed bromide leaking in a new area. Bromide is a chemical compound used to track leaks from landfills. The information, which Goldstein described as troubling, came from Aries Engineering, the firm contracted by the town to monitor the landfill.

Previously there had been bromide leaks in the north and east of the landfill, he said. Now there are leaks in the south also, he said.

Goldstein said he also wanted to discuss legal strategy with the selectmen but wanted to do it in a non-public session.

"I don't want to talk publicly with Casella's cameras running," Goldstein said. NCES pays a cameraman to record each board meeting. During the election in March the recordings were used to make election videos about candidates NCES opposed.

Board Chairman David Lovejoy said the town would check with its attorneys about putting him in a non-public session and put him on a future agenda.

Former selectman Sandy Laleme said she wasn't going to comment on the DES decision but asked the selectmen to spend the town's money judiciously. She noted that the town's legal bill for the past eight years, including $180,000 to be spent this year, was over $2.5 million.

"And what do we have? A 51-acre landfill and an unsettled lawsuit," Laleme said.

Laleme said a cancer study had already been done and no link made to the landfill and said Farrell bringing it up was a scare tactic.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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