Moretown Landfill neighbors blame damage on blasting
Stefan Hard / Staff File Photo The Moretown Landfill is seen from the air, looking south. The Winooski River and Interstate 89 are on the left.
MORETOWN — Science battled reality as Moretown residents and Moretown Landfill Inc. officials gave testimony to the Development Review Board on Thursday about the landfill’s application for expansion.
The landfill, which has operated for more than 30 years, is one of only two in the state that take municipal waste, along with Coventry.
It’s expected to be full in March and is looking to expand to a new “cell,” or area for dumping waste. The proposed cell is the size of all its other cells combined and would keep the landfill in service for 15 to 18 more years.
About 40 people crammed into a small room at the temporary town hall and were scheduled to talk about blasting, stormwater runoff and the design of the new cell. Instead they talked for four hours about what blasting at the site may have done to homes versus how much damage could be expected, based on blasting science and U.S. Bureau of Mines regulations: none.
The meeting was an extension of a hearing Sept. 27. The next one will be Oct. 25 at the Moretown Town Hall. Thursday’s meeting was relocated because of bathroom issues at the town hall, which have since been fixed.
The evening started with subcontractor Maine Drilling and Blasting giving a presentation about what blasting is and how safe it is supposed to be. The company has done blasting at the landfill every summer since 2008, to create material to cover up waste. The company has conducted 30 blasts this year and expects to finish by the end of next week.
But blasting would resume in future years if the landfill stays open.
Ken Smith, technical adviser for Maine Drilling and Blasting, opened with an ingratiating approach emphasizing what he said were his humble roots.
“I’m not an educated person,” he said. “I worked all my life. I’m school of hard knocks.”
Smith said he empathized with the residents who thought their homes had been damaged by the blasting and wanted to make sure people understood the science of blasting.
He presented graphs and charts showing limits the company has to abide by and how they are well below what should cause damage. Smith then showed a photo of a job the company did a few feet from Massachusetts General Hospital. He said the blasting went on while dozens of surgeries were performed safely.
Smith suggested the residents were perceiving the blasts as stronger than they are.
But the residents weren’t buying it.
Martha Douglass, who has lived about 1,500 feet from the landfill since 1992, showed a video shot in her kitchen during one of the blasts. It shows a full glass of water on a table. The camera and glass start shaking after one of the blasts.
“I wouldn’t want to operate under those conditions,” she said.
Maine Drilling and Blasting has taken seismic readings at the homes of some residents who requested it. Douglass said she confirmed that the machines were licensed and calibrated properly and the amount of ground movement they detected was below regulation standards.
The company is doing what it is supposed to be, she said, but the shaking persists.
“The science isn’t making sense,” she said. Smith agreed the situation seemed baffling.
Resident David Belanger, who has lived near the landfill since 2005, said a 6-by-4-foot chunk of his garage floor broke off and sank a few inches into the sandy soil the structure is built on after a blast this summer. He also said water in his well has been red and smells of sulfur, which he attributes to the blasting.
Lisa Ransom has lived on a farm next to the landfill for 17 years. She said she does not let her children play in trees for fear a blast may knock the youngsters to the ground.
Ransom runs Grow Compost of Vermont, an organic compost facility, on her farm. She said a new commercial building there, built in 2010, has cracking and damage from the blasting, including numerous foundation cracks.
Raoul Cervantes, who moved to Moretown in 2005, said his home is about half a mile from the landfill. He testified that he lived in California for 23 years and has experienced earthquakes. He talked about a blast he felt at home Oct. 1.
“I ended up calling my wife, saying, ‘Hey, did you feel that earthquake?’ ... Sure enough, it was a recorded blast. I’ve lived through earthquakes, and this felt like one,” he said.
He also testified that he has wallboard that has cracked and other damage from the blasting.
All of the residents who spoke said this summer was the worst since blasting began in 2008. Maine Drilling and Blasting supervisor Guy Keefe said the company has been doing it the same way since then and had no explanation for any increased intensity.
Residents can put themselves on a call list for notification before a blast. Most of the residents did not know the service existed, and the ones who did know said they found out only after calling the landfill to complain about the blasts.
Douglass said she has been trying to find an expert to counter the claims of Maine Drilling and Blasting, but finding one has been difficult because of the size of the company in charge of the landfill.
Moretown Landfill Inc. is owned by Interstate Waste Services, a Delaware-based company, which is being merged into Advanced Disposal Inc. of Florida. Both companies are owned by Star Atlantic Waste Holdings II, a portfolio company of the investment firm Highstar Capital in New York.
“When you mention the Moretown Landfill, not too many people want to go up against that,” she said.
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