By Robert Blechl, Caledonian Record Staff Writer (Used with permission Feb. 9, 2021)
Casella Waste Systems has increased by a third the estimated annual tonnage that would be buried at its proposed landfill beside Forest Lake State Park in Dalton.
On Thursday, the company, as required under law, notified abutters that it will be filing an application with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services for a standard permit for a solid waste landfill.
If that application is approved, it would allow construction of the first of three landfill phases, with the first phase making up about 63 acres of the site, which would be located about a mile from Route 116 off of Douglas Drive.
Disputing Casella Waste Systems testimony to the N.H. House Environment and Agriculture Committee point by point
A. Putting a landfill right next to Forest Lake State Park is far from the only viable option for NH to manage its solid waste.
1. Casella’s presentation would have the Committee believe that NH DES must allow Casella to build a massive new landfill on the Dalton site, right next to FLSP, because it is the only way that NH can ensure future landfill capacity.
Not true—the testimony at the Hearing demonstrated that if and when new landfill capacity is needed, alternative sites to the Dalton site, in NH (and elsewhere in New England) are available.
2. As discussed at the hearing, HB 177 would put off limits only a small percentage of the land in NH to landfill development, but otherwise would not in any way affect other land uses that are more compatible with state parks. That leaves plenty of land in NH left for Casella to find an alternative site. Please note that we can provide maps that show the minimal impact a 2-mile buffer would have around FLSP and a number of other NH state parks.
3. Casella has provided little to no evidence that it has done due diligence to find an alternative site for its next landfill. NH DES indicated to Casella that it is highly skeptical of Casella’s required efforts to find an alternate site in NH or elsewhere in New England that would do less environmental damage, especially given that the Dalton site will harm 17 acres of wetlands and destroy 5 vernal pools.
4. Moreover, the Mt. Carberry landfill in Success, N.H. has ample capacity currently available, and significant capacity expansion opportunities. And we note that we have worked closely with Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District over the last year—it opposed HB 1319 in the last House session but is not opposed to HB 177 due to the improvements in the legislative language.
B. In fact, the Dalton site is a terrible site for a new landfill.
1. The Dalton site proposed by Casella is a “greenfield”, i.e., undisturbed site. NH DES has never permitted a landfill on a greenfield site and given the fact that non-greenfield sites are available, there is no good reason to start now.
2. The Dalton site would destroy 17 acres of wetlands and 5 vernal pools.
Casella says it will provide mitigation for the wetlands, but that the destruction of the vernal pools is unavoidable. NH DES is unconvinced that destruction of the vernal pools is necessary or appropriate. An additional concern is that the affected area, the Alder Brook catchment, is the highest ranked wildlife habitat in the NH 2020 Wildlife Action Plan.
3. The Dalton site would make it the second landfill in the Ammonoosuc River watershed, putting at even greater risk the water supply and the tourism potential of a number of downstream communities (including Littleton).
C. Casella has made dubious legal arguments seemingly designed to scare local officials and the NH legislature.
1. Local opposition (in Dalton) to Casella’s landfill proposal is not retroactive.
The town of Dalton voted to adopt Emergency Temporary Zoning months before Casella filed its first permit application at NH DES.
2. HB 177 is not retroactive with respect to NH DES’ permitting process.
This bill was initiated as HB 1319 in the last legislative session, passed in the NH House, but was not considered further due to the pandemic.
3. HB 177 is not unconstitutional in its differential treatment of the status of the landowner that applies for permitting of a landfill. There are excellent policy reasons for such differential treatment.
4. Casella argues that HB 177 will have negative economic impacts on the firm’s financial health but fails to recognize that siting a landfill in Dalton so near to FLSP will have significant economic impacts on the regional economy. In fact, Casella fails to deal with a myriad of externalities, i.e., costs that it will not bear but others will. This point is driven home by the stated opposition of Taylor Caswell, Commissioner of NH’s Business and Economic Affairs, due to the negative impact of the proposed landfill on tourism.
D. Casella has made dubious scientific arguments.
1. Casella argues that its liner technology is state-of-the art, but it refuses to acknowledge the scientific consensus that all liners, eventually, will leak, and that solid waste buried even under the most exacting protocols are potential sources of contamination in perpetuity.
2. Casella has argued before NH DES that its proposed landfill will not result in any type of environmental harm to FLSP or the surrounding area. This flies in the face of all available evidence of the harms caused by similarly situated landfills, including documented evidence from landfills owned and/or operated by Casella.
3. Casella refuses to acknowledge that FLSP lies directly downwind (given prevailing winds) from its proposed landfill. This magnifies dramatically the risks of atmospheric deposition of harmful materials and the likelihood of noxious odors in and around FLSP.
4. As Dr. Adam Finkel has testified, the choice of 2 miles as the distance for a buffer is not arbitrary, but in fact represents a reasonable scientific compromise considering the rate of groundwater flow that is likely if and when there is landfill leakage, and the corresponding amount of time available to remediate.
5. PFAS are a problem that will not go away in NH. Casella’s plan for dealing with the problem of PFAS is seemingly to ignore the problem as much as possible.
E. Casella has been evasive and disingenuous in providing needed information to decision-makers, including local and state officials—and NH legislators.
1. Casella has refused to provide an application for zoning relief to the town of Dalton despite repeated requests to do so by the Dalton Select Board. The NH Supreme Court addressed this issue in 2004 saying: “A plain reading of the statute is that RSA chapter 149-M does not preempt lawful, applicable local regulations that are consistent with State law.” (Casella vs Town of Bethlehem)
2. Casella points to its site visit with members of the Dalton Conservation Commission as evidence of its efforts to coordinate with local officials. It’s important to note that of the three town officials on that site visit, two of them have a direct financial interest in the landfill and have been forced, against their will, to recuse themselves from town consideration of the landfill.
3. The wetlands permit application, filed at NH DES in September 2020, was a significantly incomplete submission, given the fact that NH DES issued a Request for More Information that included 26 different topics.
4. Casella’s claims that surface water will not flow from the landfill site toward FLSP belies the fact that there is only a low ridge that separates the two catchment areas. Under certain conditions, surface water may indeed flow from the landfill site to FLSP.
5. Casella’s claims that groundwater flow cannot contaminate FLSP because “groundwater does not flow uphill” is refuted by scientific consensus. That claim is simply not true, and Casella cannot know how groundwater will in fact flow without collecting and analyzing significantly more hydrogeologic data on the site and surrounding area.
6. Casella’s claims that there will be no environmental impacts on FLSP and the surrounding area from its proposed landfill are unsupported.
NCABC has asked NH DES to require Casella to provide at a minimum one year’s worth of baseline hydrogeologic data as necessary to support any regarding environmental impact.
7. NCABC’s wetlands expert and attorney note that Northern Pass provided significantly more data to state decision-makers than has Casella, despite the fact that the Dalton landfill project will have approximately seven times the impact on wetlands.
8. Casella has long argued that the landfill will not be visible from FLSP or surrounding areas, but now claims that in fact its viewshed analysis indicates that at certain locations and at certain times the landfill will have a viewshed impact.
9. Casella has said nothing about the known hazards of scavenger animals. In particular, seagull droppings significantly increase the risk of eventual permanent eutrophication of a fragile mountain lake such as Forest Lake.
(This fact sheet was sent to the House Environment and Agriculture Committee on Feb. 6)
FOR THE NH HOUSE E&A COMMITTEE HEARING ON HB 177 (2021)– February 3, 2021
Dear Chairman Pearl and other members of the Committee:
Thank you for providing this forum for the public to express their views on HB 177.
I am the President of North Country Alliance for Balanced Change. This written testimony is on behalf of the NCABC Board of Directors, but please note that it is also on behalf of the hundreds of NCABC supporters who live, work, play –and vote– in New Hampshire’s North Country and throughout the state of NH.
NCABC is one of several North Country grassroots organizations as well as a number of regional and national public interest organizations that will be testifying today in support of HB 177. I believe that all of these organizations speak with one voice in urging the members of this Committee to vote YES.
We know that many NH legislators are familiar with the goals of HB 177 and support it unconditionally. However, if you have any concerns about HB 177, please let us know and allow us to make our case. If you still have lingering concerns about HB 177, we ask you to vote yes in Committee so that it can get full consideration in the House of Representatives.
We think that protecting NH state parks from encroachment from landfill development is an easy call because it is so obviously good public policy. Unfortunately, it is clear that regulatory oversight by NH’s Department of Environmental Services is not sufficient, given the mandate DES has and the limited resources and tools at their disposal. Protection of NH’s state parks from landfill development requires a legislative fix.
NH’s state parks are largely on land that has been set aside for its natural beauty, its pristine environment, and its recreational opportunities. Solid waste landfills, despite being highly regulated, are clearly one of the most environmentally harmful and risky land use activities. In a nutshell, landfills and state parks are not compatible abutting land uses.
Our immediate concern is the damage a landfill adjacent to FLSP could do to the environmental amenities in and around FLSP, the recreational opportunities it provides for area residents, and the economic fallout of tourism losses that are fully expectable if a landfill is built within a few hundred feet.
But our bigger concern is that if the state doesn’t have the tools to limit a landfill developer from making private choices with such terrible and foreseeable impacts on a public asset like FLSP, the same thing could happen to any one of the 60+ state parks in NH.
We therefore ask members of this Committee to consider how you would respond if a state park in your district were threatened by landfill development. And when you do, we hope and expect that you will decide to vote YES on HB 177.
By Robert Blechl, The Caledonian Record (used with permission Jan. 14, 2021)
Voicing concerns about truck traffic and possible pollution of the Ammonoosuc River, more towns, as well as local business owners, are formally opposing the proposed Casella Waste Systems landfill in Dalton.
Casella representatives have dismissed those concerns, saying they are focused instead on Dalton and not on “outside groups.”
Joining the opposition are the Lisbon Conservation Commission, which wrote a letter to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, the agency that would approve the wetlands permit; the Littleton Conservation Commission, which has now submitted its letter to DES regarding impacts to the river; voters in the town of Carroll who submitted a petitioned warrant article resolution with concerns about truck traffic; a growing number of Littleton business owners, now more than 40, signing on to a petition; and fresh concerns from the state Division of Parks and Recreation.
North Country Alliance for Balanced Change enthusiastically supports HB 177, a bi-partisan bill prohibiting the siting of new landfills within 2 miles of a state park.
This legislation will protect all of New Hampshire’s state parks from encroachment by private landfill developers. Landfills near our state parks would harm tourism and threaten the recreational opportunities, natural beauty and tranquility provided by these treasured places.
NCABC thanks the bill’s sponsors: Rep. Timothy Egan (D-Sugar Hill), Rep. Edith Tucker (D-Randolph), Rep. Larry Laflamme (D-Berlin) Rep. William Hatch, (D-Gorham), Rep. Dennis Thompson (R-Stewartstown) and Sen. Erin Hennessey (R-Littleton).
These lawmakers have shown their dedication to protect our state parks and the natural environment and ensuring that our tourist-based economy is not harmed.
The bill was slated to be introduced to the New Hampshire House today and automatically referred to the House Environmental and Agriculture Committee for review. A similar bill, HB 1319, passed the House in 2020, but was not taken up by the state Senate due to early closure of the legislative session because of Covid-19.
NCABC: More than 200 garbage-hauling truck trips a day servicing Dalton dump pose health, safety and environmental dangers to White Mountain communities
NCABC’s traffic expert finds major impact on state and local highways from proposed Dalton landfill
Dalton, N.H. [Jan. 5, 2021] – North Country Alliance for Balanced Change today released an analysis detailing significant threats to public safety, quality of life and the environment by garbage hauling trucks and other vehicles servicing a proposed landfill in Dalton.
Casella Waste Systems Traffic Study confirms that more than 200 garbage-hauling trucks will be rolling daily to and from the proposed Dalton dump, through the heart of three North Country towns– Bethlehem, Twin Mountain, and Whitefield.
NCABC’s preliminary review of the study, sent to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, reveals that the document is incomplete and inadequate for a number of technical reasons, and that the additional truck traffic projected by Casella could significantly affect the public safety and quality of life in those North Country communities.
Moreover, the truck route proposed by Casella as the best route is inconsistent with the criteria Casella says should be used to choose the proposed truck route. NCABC finds that the proposed truck route was picked for purely political reasons, and not because it is the shortest, or safest, or least impactful route.
House Bill Seeks To Prohibit Landfills With 2 Miles Of State Parks
(Reprinted with permission from Robert Blechl and the Caledonian Record)
LITTLETON — Opposition is mounting to a proposed commercial landfill in Dalton, and it now includes more people from neighboring towns.
Saying negative impacts would fall on their town and river from the proposed Casella Waste Systems landfill upstream in Dalton, 53 Littleton residents signed a petition to oppose a second landfill in the North Country.
The petition, non-binding, will appear at the March town meeting as a warrant article to oppose any approval by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services of any application for another commercial landfill to be built in the region.
With environmental concerns, the Littleton Conservation Commission will also be writing to DES to ask the department to deny Casella’s wetlands permit for Dalton.
At the same time, local lawmakers are advancing a New Hampshire House of Representatives bill that seeks to prohibit landfills from being sited within two miles of state parks.
Casella is proposing its second commercial landfill in the area beside Forest Lake State Park.
Its existing landfill in Bethlehem is projected to reach capacity and close in about 2026.
During the Dec. 28 Littleton Board of Selectmen’s meeting, resident Pat Kellogg presented the petition to selectmen with the signatures of 53 registered voters that include state Rep. Linda Massimilla, D-Littleton; state Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, also a co-sponsor of the House Bill; and John Hennessey, chairman of the Littleton River District Redevelopment Commission.
Analysis: Transportation impact on local, state and federal highways in the White Mountains if Casella builds its Dalton dump
Prepared by NCABC Dec. 21, 2020 (All data come from one of three sources: GSL Traffic Study, dated September 2020; Notes from January 29, 2020 DOT Lancaster Office meeting; Notes from February 22, 2020 DOT Concord Office “Scoping Meeting.”
How many trucks can be expected? • 102 trucks on an average day will go to the dump and come back from the dump. • It’s important to recognize that this means on the proposed routes, 204 trucks, not 102 trucks, will be rolling by on an average day. • Additional trucks, including an as yet unspecified number of large tankers carrying toxic leachate will transit to and from the dump site to unspecified processing centers over unspecified routes.
How big will the trucks be? • Half of the 102 trucks will be WB-67 vehicles, which have 18 wheels, and are 67 feet in length. While this may be the intent, 22 wheel vehicles have been observed servicing the NCES dump in Bethlehem. • The other half of the 102 trucks will be smaller, but no information is provided about the size of those smaller trucks. This means that the size of those trucks could be only slightly smaller than WB-67 vehicles.
What does Casella propose as the best truck route? • For trucks accessing the dump from northbound I-93, exit to North on US 3 in Franconia, through Franconia, Bethlehem, Carroll, and Whitefield, then Southwest on NH 116 in Whitefield to the dump access at the intersection of NH 116 and Douglas Drive. • For trucks accessing the dump from I-91 in either southbound or northbound direction, exit to South on I-93 in St. Johnsbury and continuing past all Littleton I-93 exits, exit to East on US 302 through Bethlehem and Carroll, then North on US 3 in Carroll to Whitefield, then Southwest on NH 116 in Whitefield to the dump access at the intersection of NH 116 and Douglas Drive.
What does Casella say are the implied criteria it used to choose a proposed route? • Maximize travel on interstate roads • Minimize travel on non-interstate roads • Minimize travel distance • Community impacts • Roadway infrastructure constraints
Are the proposed routes consistent with the criteria? • No; not even close. The route that is most consistent with the criteria would be for all trucks to travel through Littleton to the site, whether access is via I-93 or via I-91. A route through Littleton could exit I-93 onto US 302 East to NH 116, or exit I-93 at Cottage Street to NH 116. • In addition, there are a number of other possible routes that would go through Littleton, but would not go through the heart of Littleton’s commercial district. Why are routes through Littleton more consistent with the criteria than the proposed route? • A route through Littleton significantly increases the amount of travel on interstate roads compared to the proposed routes. • A route through Littleton significantly decreases the amount of travel on non-interstate roads compared to the proposed routes. • A route through Littleton significantly decreases the total number of miles traveled, particularly for trucks accessing the site from I-91. • A route through Littleton impacts only one community, i.e., Littleton, instead of the three communities impacted by the proposed route, i.e., Twin Mt./Carroll, Whitefield, and Bethlehem.
Some routes through Littleton appear to have no significant constraints; other routes may. In contrast, the proposed routes include a very significant constraint, i.e., the intersection of US 3 and NH 116 in the center of Whitefield, already flagged as problematic by NH DOT.
Then why is the proposed route preferred compared to a route through Littleton that is more consistent with the criteria? • The answer seems obvious—Casella (and maybe NH DOT also) want to avoid political entanglements with Littleton. • Casella has openly said this at an initial meeting with NH DOT in January 2020. • And it was reiterated at the “scoping meeting” between NH DOT and Casela in February 2020.
Is it fair to route trucks to travel further overall, travel further on non- interstate roads, and disrupt more communities just to placate Littleton? • We think the answer is NO! If Littleton wants to receive any benefits from the Dalton dump it should be willing to bear some of the costs. • In fact, as a matter of fairness, the trucks should be going through Dalton. The proposed routes will have no traffic impact on Dalton, which ironically is the only town in the region that will receive direct cash payments from Casella, reportedly $71 million.
(Nov. 20, 2020 reprinted with permission of The Caledonian Record)
On Wednesday, the state Department of Environmental Services said Casella’s wetlands permit application has large pieces of missing information and the company did not consider other sites where impacts to wetlands would be less. (File photo by Robert Blechl)
The new battlefront on the proposed Casella Waste Systems in Dalton is the company’s dredge and wetlands permit application that opponents urge the state to reject and that the state now says is missing big pieces of information.
On Wednesday, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services issued a five-page, 27-point letter to Casella stating that the missing information and company responses to local conservation commissions and advisory committees must be provided by Jan. 17 or the application that was filed in September will be denied.
DES officials also state there might be better areas for a new landfill that would have less impact on wetlands than the site proposed in Dalton, where some 17 acres would be destroyed.
Local opposition groups say DES’s findings indicate an application that is woefully deficient and poses much environmental harm. They ask DES to reject it.
Casella representatives said they would provide the information for what will be a long process.
The Vermont-based company needs a wetland permit to move forward with what they call the Granite State Landfill, a private, commercial landfill of 180 acres with a 40-year life that it seeks to site next to Forest Lake State Park.
In his letter to Casella, Craig Rennie, inland wetland supervisor with DES’s Land Resources Management, asked the company to address how future expansions of the three-phase landfill will impact surrounding wetlands and surface waters on the property, “as this long-term planning is critical to determine if avoidance and minimization of wetland resources have been fully demonstrated” under DES rules.
Regarding a Sept. 27 letter by DES’s Water Division requesting that alternative sites in neighboring states be considered because they might have less overall wetlands impact, Rennie said Casella’s analysis considered Maine and Vermont, both of which prohibit out-of-state waste, but did not consider Massachusetts as a potential sitting area.
If excavation and blasting will take place in Dalton, he said it is not clear in Casella’s application how those activities would impact surrounding wetlands, groundwater levels, or nearby drinking supplies, including a public water supply near Forest Lake and numerous private wells.
The company needs to provide a further analysis with supporting documentation, he said.
As the company stated and offered in its application, Rennie requested that Casella update meetings with public officials, conservation commissions, and local advisory committees for DES review.
If anyone is trying to curry political favor, John W. Casella certainly fits the bill. Although his company is headquartered and he lives in Vermont, he is a consistent contributor to New Hampshire Republican candidates and the New Hampshire Senate Republican PAC, according to filed campaign finance reports.
We are convinced that the vast majority of North Country residents are opposed to the Casella proposal, and there are at least three non-profit citizen organizations that support sustainable alternatives to another Casella landfill in the Ammonoosuc River watershed.
We are the North Country Alliance for Balanced Change (NCABC), and we applaud the Grafton County Democratic Caucus opposition to yet another North Country landfill, and its responsible call to reform the state’s solid waste management policies (Opinion: Our Future Can’t Be Bought NH Journal Oct. 13).
The Grafton County lawmakers rightly point out that state government’s role in managing solid waste generated within New Hampshire must not be outsourced to companies, out-of-state companies at that, which are motivated by profits and without strong local roots.
In particular, there is significant concern that, according to Casella’s commitment to the town of Dalton, up to half of all of the waste landfilled in Dalton will come from out-of-state. The caucus also wisely proposes managing “our own trash infrastructure” or risk negative impacts on the environment and tourism economy.
The Caucus correctly noted that the environmental and quality of life impact posed by a 137-acre landfill (for starters) near the shores of Forest Lake and one of the state’s oldest state park would be significant—with repercussions on the region’s tourism economy, and quality of life for thousands of North Country residents.
In his opinion piece, John Casella downplayed water quality impacts on the Ammonoosuc River from his Bethlehem facility and the proposed Dalton landfill. But the Ammonoosuc River Local Advisory Committee voted unanimously this month recommending the state reject Casella’s wetlands permit for the proposed facility.
In a letter dated Oct. 1 to the state Wetlands Bureau, the advisory committee cited numerous concerns, including the disruption of “well-functioning wetlands” and five vernal pools on the site, in addition to the impact of two landfills upstream of Lisbon, Bath and Woodsville which all depend on the river and its watershed for drinking water.
The committee also worried about drainage and runoff flowing downhill from the landfill to the river and the impact on two trout fisheries and wildlife habitat posed by the proposed Dalton landfill. The prospect of heavy truck traffic to and from the proposed landfill on Route 116 also was cited by the committee in its decision.
NCABC believes that the state Department of Environmental Services must insist on solid waste management protocols protecting the land, water, quality of life, and health of the people of New Hampshire. The Dalton site that Casella favors is no doubt convenient and cost-effective for Casella, but for so many reasons it is otherwise a terrible site for a new mega-landfill.
DES’s mission is “to help sustain a high quality of life for all citizens by protecting and restoring the environment and public health in New Hampshire.” That mission says nothing about fostering the convenience and economic advantage of Casella Waste Systems Inc. which has exploited a void in a regulatory capacity and political willpower for decades in New Hampshire.
Casella suggests that NH has no solid waste alternatives other than to approve its proposal for a new Dalton landfill. Nonsense. There are viable alternatives that communities can choose, including other existing landfills, as well as better management of their solid waste volumes.
Communities south of Franconia Notch anticipating shipping their solid waste to the White Mountains region of the North Country to an ill-suited and unwanted Dalton landfill should consider regional solutions for their waste.
The White Mountains cannot become New Hampshire’s dumping ground.
Eliot Wessler, president NCABC
Board members Sarah Doucette, Gary Ghioto, Erik Johnson, Mary Menzies, Tom Tower, Stephen Walker