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Bethlehem landfill vote may have implications across the state

By John Koziol
Union Leader Correspondent

January 29. 2017 8:43PM
The road to the North Country Environmental Services landfill, shown here on Jan. 16, is a busy one with solid waste from 155 New Hampshire communities brought there. Casella Waste Systems, which owns the NCES, wants to expand the landfill and is hoping Bethlehem residents wil support two warrant articles at town meeting in March. (John Koziol/Correspondent)

BETHLEHEM — While the proposed expansion of the landfill district here will be decided by voters at town meeting, the outcome of the vote may affect how more than half of New Hampshire’s communities deal with their solid waste.

Located on Trudeau Road and owned and operated by Casella Waste Systems of Rutland Vt., the North Country Environmental Services (NCES) landfill is looking to grow by approximately 100 acres, 70 of which would be used to increase capacity.

According to NCES and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ Solid Waste Management Bureau, the NCES landfill in 2015 accepted municipal solid waste from 156 of the Granite State’s 13 cities, 221 towns, and 25 unincorporated places as well as from the five other New England states.

Under its current DES permit, the NCES is expected to run out of capacity by 2021. That fact prompted Casella to approach the Bethlehem Board of Selectmen in 2016 with a proposal for expansion that will come before voters at town meeting on March 14.

The selectmen have voted to place the expansion on the town warrant with their recommendation. The town’s Planning Board, however, voted last week not to support the measure.

Opponents of the facility allege it is smelly and noisy and that it has a negative effect on the quality of life in Bethlehem, as well as on property values and the local and regional tourism economies.

Some residents, like Cheryl Jensen and Julie Seeley, are shocked that the NCES expansion is even being considered, given that at town meeting in 2012 voters approved an article that they believed not only brought an end to decades of legal wrangling between the town and Casella/NCES, but also explicitly prohibited any future expansion.

Kevin Roy, who manages the NCES, said the resulting 2012 Host Community Agreement (HCA) with Bethlehem lets either party reopen negotiations and amend the contract.

Asked about the non-expansion language, he explained that the NCES is a “dirt monster” that requires huge amounts of topsoil daily to cover the solid waste. He added that NCES could have brought in the dirt from outside the immediate area, which would have been more expensive and increased truck traffic around the landfill, but instead it chose to buy an existing sand pit, which happens to be in the expansion footprint.

Roy said there was nothing questionable or illegal about the acquisition of the sand pit, but a group of residents, including Jensen, Seeley and Julian Czarny, disagree, citing what they said were repeated broken promises by NCES and Casella to the town.

Group members said last week the NCES landfill needs to close in 2021 in accordance with the 2012 memorandum of understanding that was ratified that year by town meeting voters.

The group also questioned why their board of selectmen seemingly rushed forward with a new Host Community Agreement.

In a four-page brochure that was mailed to postal customers in town, selectmen defended their action, saying the proposed HCA would increase the amount the town receives annually through a combination of taxes and tipping fees from the current $2.50 per ton to a minimum of $4.50 a ton and eventually climbing to over $6.

Among other things, the town would also receive from NCES a one-time payment of $250,000 to develop recreational facilities and $600,000 over five years for development of a light-industrial complex on the NCES campus. Assuming that voters approve the proposed HCA, NCES would transfer the land on which the complex would be built to the town while continuing to provide curbside waste and recyclable pick-up.

Environment Local and County Government Bethlehem

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