CONCORD — North County environmental activists and their allies squared off Thursday against the trash disposal industry and state officials over legislation to impose a two-year moratorium on new or expanded privately-owned landfills.
Opponents of a proposed landfill in Dalton were pursuing this bill (HB 1422) along with a related one (HB 1319) also heard Thursday to create a two-mile buffer between any landfill and public lands.
The proposed Dalton landfill would be a short distance away from the Forest Lake State Park.
“We think these issues are so critical that a pause is warranted,” said Ellen Hayes, an environmental activist helping lead the battle against the Dalton landfill.
“New Hampshire should strive to take the cash out of trash.”
Casella Waste Systems has proposed the Dalton landfill after residents in neighboring Bethlehem have twice turned down the bid to expand its North Country Environmental Services landfill in that town.
Last July voters in Dalton approved a temporary zoning ordinance that opponents of the landfill sought as a way to eventually block the project.
“This moratorium will effectively close the North Country landfill putting dozens of employees out of jobs,” warned Brian Oliver with Casella.
That’s because the project needs another permit to keep operating past next year, he said.
Currently there are six landfills in the state, two privately-owned in Bethlehem and in Rochester and one publicly-owned but commercially operated in the tiny North County township of Success next to Berlin.
There are publicly-owned landfills in Nashua, Lebanon and Conway.
Michael Wimsatt, director of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management, said moratoriums aren’t workable as these landfill operators need to update their permits nearly every year.
“A moratorium on landfills either new or expanded is not a helpful or productive action to take,” Wimsatt said.
Tom Irwin with the Conservation Law Foundation endorsed the idea.
He noted the Legislature two decades ago set a goal of reducing solid waste by 40 percent and put landfills at the bottom of the waste “hierarchy.”
“Twenty years later we have not achieved the solid waste reduction goal and we are still operating on a disposal model and relying heavily on landfills,” Irwin said.
Oliver said Casella has worked to reduce the amount of out-of-state waste it takes at the Bethlehem plant.
In 2020, 80 percent of the trash disposed of there will be coming from New Hampshire, he said.
“Technology is not where we need to be in order to eliminate our landfills,” Oliver said. “Doing this in the future is possible in my view but not now.”
Along with the landfill operators, the New Hampshire Municipal Association and Associated General Contractors also opposed the bill.