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Public hearing tonight over zoning changes needed for Bethlehem-NCES settlement agreement

Landfill company, town signed off on potential deal last week; up to voters now

November 30, 2011
BETHLEHEM — Attorneys for the Bethlehem Selectboard and North Country Environmental Services have dotted their i's and crossed their t's in a settlement agreement dated and signed by both parties last week. Now it's up to voters to decide whether they feel it's a good or a bad deal.

A public hearing will be held tonight, Nov. 30, at 6:15 p.m. concerning the changes to a zoning ordinance that will be voted on at a Special Town Meeting in January — the outcome of which will make or break the agreement.

The town and the landfill company, which is a subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems of Rutland, Vt., have been working on a resolution since Oct. 17, when the parties held a mediation session aimed at resolving a lawsuit over the Trudeau Road facility before it goes to trial in March. The trial will still go forward if voters reject the zoning changes.

The town and owners of the landfill have clashed for years over the facility's place in the community, but the current lawsuit concerns the town's 2005 restriction of the landfill to "District V" — which corresponds with the 51 acres currently in use — as well as the 2010 adoption of an "aquifer protection ordinance." (The aquifer ordinance prohibited the development or operation of a solid waste landfill within the protected area; however, it did give an exception to landfills already in existence, but with the limitation of no expansion.)

Soon after the mediation, the Board of Selectmen released a Memorandum of Understanding to give the public an idea of what was on the table. Much of the details remain the same in the settlement agreement, though the final version includes maps as well as the language to be included in a zoning amendment.

NCES manager Kevin Roy said the company is taking the town's lead in providing information to the public, as it feels it is important that it come from the Selectboard.

Two informational sessions are planned for going over the agreement — one 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Bethlehem Elementary School and the other from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 10, at Profile School. The vote on the amendments is scheduled for Jan. 17.

The first proposed change would enlarge the 51 acres in District V to 61 acres — as described in detail in attachments to the agreement — and it also would add language clarifying what a "building or structure" means.

The second amendment would exempt the "development and operation of a solid waste landfill within District V" from all provisions of the aquifer protection ordinance.

Roy said the enlargement of District V wouldn't mean that all of the extra acreage would be used to hold waste.

Support structures such as roads, ditches and ponds must fit within the district, and, according to the maps, NCES also would give up the right to use 4.33 acres of the existing 51 for waste disposal — only infrastructure would be allowed. So, according to the proposed amendment's "finding and statement of purpose," only a net of approximately 5.67 acres would be used for landfilling — which was reached by subtracting 4.33 from the 10 acres, said the town's attorney Brenda Keith.

Roy said NCES's current "total existing permitted and constructed landfill area within the 51-acre parcel is 37.94 acres." With the agreement, the facility would gain about a million cubic yards of space — potentially extending its life to 2031.

The settlement agreement and attachments are available on the town's website, www.bethlehem.org.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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