BETHLEHEM — Saturday’s annual open house at the North Country Environmental Services landfill had a little bit of everything, including protesters.
Owned and operated by Casella Waste Systems of Rutland, Vt., the NCES landfill, according to the company, is a progressive, state-of-the-art facility that performs a vital service for 150 New Hampshire communities and represents “a bridge to the future.”
The NCES pays taxes to the Town of Bethlehem based on a capacity formula; the higher the capacity, the higher the payment.
But capacity is projected to be reached sometime in 2020 and Casella has done two things to address the situation: It has filed an application with the state to allow the NCES to expand within the landfill’s existing footprint, which would extend capacity until about 2024, and it has also begun looking at a site in nearby Dalton, not far from Forest Lake State Park.
The latter landfill, because of concerns about proximity to Forest Lake, led to the formation of a group known as Save Forest Lake.
SFL has maintained that the landfill could leach harmful substances into the lake while also resulting in an increase in heavy truck traffic, depressing both tourism and property values.
On Saturday, about a dozen members of SFL and affiliated groups stood across the street from the entrance to the NCES, holding signs critical of Casella’s operations in Bethlehem and elsewhere.
DALTON — By a small but significant margin, voters at a special town meeting on Tuesday even…
John Casella, chairman and CEO of Casella Waste Systems, said everyone, including people who disagree with his company, was welcome to attend the open house, but Jon Swan, the organizer of SFL, said he chose not to.
The NCES open houses have been taking place for more than a decade and are intended, Casella said, to let the community see “how we protect the environment” and how innovative the landfill is.
The landfill is working with Rudarpa and Liberty Utilities on a gas plant that could bring energy to 90,000 homes and businesses and it has harnessed the heat from the landfill to warm workshops and a greenhouse.
Holding the open house, Casella said, “is the right thing to do.”
Asked about his company’s plans for Dalton, he said Casella Waste Systems “will continue to move forward and evaluate the site” during the remainder of the multi-year purchase option it has on the land.
Casella defended the NCES landfill, calling it “one of the better sites in New England” and took issue with criticism that it is contaminating the nearby Ammonoosuc River. He pointed out that when Casella purchased what had been an existing landfill in Bethlehem a quarter century ago, one of the first things it did was to clean it up, removing waste from a section that was unlined and had been polluting the Ammonoosuc.
Casella said the NCES has opponents, but supporters, too.
Joe Fusco, a Casella Waste Systems executive, pointed out, however, that “you rarely see people with signs” in favor of landfills.
Broadly speaking, “everyone wants it (trash) picked up,” said Fusco, but “nobody wants it put down” in their city or town.
Casella and Fusco said the real challenge is to get consumers to reduce, re-use and recycle, adding that the NCES is actively working to remove materials from the waste stream before they go into a landfill.
If the NCES landfill is shut down, the waste it receives will have to go elsewhere, said Casella, and if it has to go out of state, New Hampshire could lose control over its solid waste future.
Sarah Doucette of the North Country Alliance for Balanced Change said the group opposes both the NCES landfill and the one proposed in Dalton.
“NCABC’s position is that the region has endured significant negative impact from Casella’s Bethlehem landfill and it is time for the corporation to look elsewhere to dispose of its trash which includes over 30% waste from out of state,” she wrote in an email.
Swan said the NCES open house was “a great opportunity to raise awareness amongst the populace of the North Country of the threat posed to our way of life by this corporate predator seeking to further enrich itself at the expense of our wonderful quality of life by turning the North Country into the garbage landfill for the NE USA.”
While he and Swan disagree on many points, Casella concurred with him that the NCES open house was a good way to educate the public about the landfill.