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Landfill deal presented to public

Landfill would expand on additional 10 acres, restricted beyond that

October 27, 2011
BETHLEHEM — Around 100 residents got a first glimpse Monday night at the deal brokered by the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board with Casella Waste Systems to end the long-standing legal dispute with the company over the Trudeau Road landfill.

The deal would have to be approved by voters during a town meeting tentatively scheduled to take place in January.

During a regularly scheduled Board of Selectmen meeting, Chairman David Lovejoy presented a summary of the conclusions of the 10-hour mediation session held the previous Monday at Lovejoy's house. Though there were a large number of residents in the room waiting to hear about the agreement, selectmen carried out routine business including approval of the minutes before getting to the matter at hand.

The deal bore little resemblance to that offered by Casella after mediation sessions in 2005. That offer, which selectmen rejected in January 2006 as did residents in a vote in June, offered the town $10 million over a period of 10 years in addition to tipping fees.

This offer was far less generous, with the only money changing hands being 25 cents per ton tipped into the landfill, with the amount increasing to 75 cents a ton tipped into a 10-acre addition the landfill would be allowed to expand into.

Casella would agree to put conservation easements on all its land except the current 51-acres and an additional 10-acre lot. It would also deed any other future acquired land so that no waste could be put there.

Casella would provide free trash and recycling removal throughout the town, including in the village district.

The company would also agree to pay tax rates based on a formula by the BTLA (Bureau of Tax and Land Appeals) and to stop filing abatements disputing its taxes.

Both parties would agree to drop their respective legal actions, which would save both sides money.

A number of residents at the meeting noted that the town had been winning most of the legal actions and motions of late against the landfill and it was ironic they were now settling.

Selectman Sandy Laleme, the only selectman who had also been present at the 2005 mediation session, and ultimately voted against that proposed deal, said this was a good deal because of the protections that would be written into the deeds of the property through easements.

The tenor of the crowd in the meeting room of the Town Building was clearly in favor of the proposed deal judging by the applause in support of speakers supporting it, though a number of speakers expressed skepticism of the deal.

Resident Cliff Crosby spoke first, praising what he described as a courageous move on the part of the selectmen. Crosby spent much of the past few months walking with his dog Patches and talking to residents about making a deal with Casella, though his proposal envisioned the town receiving much more money from the Rutland, Vt.- based company. He asserted he spoke to 1,500 residents, though when pressed in an interview in Littleton recently he admitted he had only spoken to less than half that number.

Crosby said the tax rate was making it difficult for people to make ends meet in Bethlehem.

"People are suffering, I saw too many foreclosures," Crosby said.

George Manupelli, a longtime opponent of the landfill, said that the town has clearly expressed its opposition to the landfill in a number of votes, including supporting the legal battle against Casella by keeping the legal budget high each year.

"The board has lost my respect. They should be ashamed of what they did," Manupelli said.

A nearly tearful Andrea Bryant expressed dismay over the deal.

"It's not going to be a fair vote, Casella will push lies," Bryant said. "They're going to spend thousands if not millions."

Others saw no problem with the deal.

"I thank the board for what they've done," Nancy Stevenson said. She said the town should move forward and put this behind it.

There was loud applause in response to her comment.

Because this is a complicated legal issue, several residents said they believed there should be a special informational session to present the final legal agreement to the voters.

No schedule has been set up yet for this meeting or the final vote.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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