• Waste management topic of regional meeting
     | July 14,2014

    HARTFORD — Officials from 13 Upper Valley municipalities are scheduled to meet at the VA Medical Center on Tuesday to discuss potential improvements to the way the region handles its garbage, including a potential landfill site in Hartland and ways to streamline individual towns’ solid waste management systems.

    The participants, which will likely include officials from Lebanon and Hanover in New Hampshire, Hartford and Norwich in Vermont, will consider the results of a report they received in April that indicated regional cooperation will depend most on whether Lebanon chooses to invest in a regional solution.

    Ted Siegler, president of Ascutney-based DSM Environmental Services Inc., who helped write the report, summarized its findings in three parts.

    First, towns can improve their waste management systems, largely on their own, by combining recycling and municipal solid waste pickups, for example.

    Next, the majority of waste entering the area’s major landfill in Lebanon is controlled by private companies, especially Casella Waste Systems, which also owns the area’s major recycling transfer station in White River Junction. When Upper Valley municipalities send their trash to private companies, they have very little control over what happens to it. If it wanted to, Casella could rely on its own landfills in Coventry, Vt., and Bethlehem, N.H., instead of the Lebanon landfill, which helps the city pay for waste costs by charging a “tip” fee per ton of trash deposited.

    Siegler also addressed the Hartland site, owned by the Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District, which serves 10 Vermont towns and until now has absorbed development costs on its own. As pressure on the district rises with the new recycling requirements of Vermont Act 148, Vermont towns are seeking to share the burden with their New Hampshire counterparts.

    “I think many of the decisions regarding the (Hartland) landfill rest on the Lebanon City Council’s decision to keep their landfill open or expand it,” Siegler said.

    Officials from the towns are set to meet Tuesday for fact-finding purposes, but Lebanon City Manager Greg Lewis said his city has different priorities than the towns across the river. “We don’t have that rush that the Vermont state has created for its local jurisdictions. They definitely have a different set of challenges,” Lewis said.

    George Murray, who manages Lebanon’s landfill, predicted that the city could continue to use its own facility until 2090 by expanding or improving existing portions, but could not estimate how much that work would cost.

    Lewis said Lebanon planned to rely on its own landfill until that time. “We’re not going to increase costs to go into other fields,” he said. “It’s hard on people with our present property tax system.”

    Norwich Town Manager Neil Fulton, who estimated that a landfill in Hartland would cost $10 million to $15 million, recommended alternative uses for the property in the short term, such as composting.

    “We recognize that we’re not going to be opening a landfill there in the near future,” Fulton said.

    The report also addressed potential arrangements for increased regional cooperation. The New Hampshire towns could create a counterpart to Vermont’s waste management district, the report noted, but a formal agreement between the states would face greater obstacles, including approval from Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    In the meantime, the debt that the Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District has incurred from the Hartland site has stalled its efforts to expand its transfer station in Hartford, the report found. Resolving the issue will depend on Lebanon, “which currently may or may not recognize any value in acquiring a share in a future disposal site,” the report said.

    The report listed some potential benefits Lebanon could reap by buying in, including help in dealing with odor from its landfill, a contingency plan for the risk of losing Casella’s business and more formal arrangements with municipalities whose waste it now receives through private trash haulers.

    Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com.

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