DALTON — In a town with no zoning, a resident has begun a petition effort calling for a special town meeting to ask voters to adopt emergency temporary zoning and planning ordinances to prevent the construction of a landfill near Forest Lake State Park.
Jon Swan on Tuesday said he hopes to present the petition to the Dalton Board of Selectmen at their May 20 meeting.
But Joe Fusco, vice president of Rutland, Vt.-based Casella Waste Systems, which owns and operates the North Country Environmental Services landfill in neighboring Bethlehem, said the action is premature because there is no blueprint or plan yet.
Fusco confirmed, however, that the NCES landfill, which has been at the center of challenges both in court and town meetings, is running out of capacity, which is why Casella has been looking for a new site, and thinks the company may have found it off Route 116 in Dalton.
For Swan, the area where Casella would put the Dalton landfill is the worst place for it because of the proximity to Forest Lake, which drains into the nearby Burns Pond, Alder Book, the Johns River and the Ammonoosuc River before it finally enters the Connecticut.
Swan and a website that he created, www.saveforestlake.com, warn of harmful leachates contaminating groundwater; an increase in heavy truck traffic; and a negative impact on both the region’s tourism and local property values.
He said if the Dalton selectmen after receiving the petition, which needs to be signed by at least five percent of registered voters, agree to ask the Coos County Superior Court for permission to hold a special town meeting, the meeting could be scheduled within 90 days.
At the meeting, voters would be asked “Shall the town adopt the provisions of RSA 674:24-29 titled ‘Emergency Temporary Zoning and Planning Ordinance’?’’
If voters respond in the affirmative and adopt interim zoning, the town, Swan believes, would then be able to cite another section of the law dealing with Commercial Exceptions.
The pertinent part of that section reads “No business, commercial or industrial venture or use shall be permitted which could cause any undue hazard to health, safety or property values or which is offensive to the public because of noise, vibration, excessive traffic, unsanitary conditions, noxious odor, smoke or other similar reason.”
A self-described libertarian who five years ago “pretty much retired” to a 15-acre homestead that is on the far end of Forest Lake and across the street from it, Swan said when he heard about the possibility of a landfill coming to town he decided he had to act.
“I’m the last person I’d consider an eco-warrior,” Swan said, adding he considers landfills “a necessary evil.”
Fusco on Wednesday said the issue is larger than just a single landfill.
Currently, some 150 New Hampshire municipalities have their waste taken to the NCES landfill, which also accepts some waste from out of state, said Fusco, but that landfill is quickly running out of capacity.
“One of the central issues here is that there is probably going to be a 20 million ton shortfall (in landfill capacity) in New Hampshire over the next 20 years,” he said, which is why it’s incumbent upon Casella and the state to “start planning now to develop capacity to handle New Hampshire’s waste-management needs.”
Fusco said Casella has looked at “a good number” of possible sites for a new landfill and identified the one in Dalton as “an excellent site from a scientific standpoint, from a location standpoint, but we have to do all the work necessary to determine that.”
Overall, “this is extremely early” to debate the merits of a Dalton landfill, he said. “This is a long process and there will be significant opportunities for public comment and public involvement,” said Fusco, which he hopes will be based on facts, “rather than speculation and conjecture about something that doesn’t quite exist yet.”
He took exception to Swan’s characterization of landfills as “a necessary evil,” instead calling them, “an important part of a holistic infrastructure necessary to protect public and environmental health and safety.”
Everyone wants and envisions “a day in the future when we produce no waste or everything can be reused,” said Fusco, “but most reasonable people understand that landfills are a bridge to the future.”