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On Monday, March 18, the Moretown Select Board set its sights on state money to soften the blow after the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) announced on March 14 that it will not recertify Moretown Landfill Cells 2 and 3.
According to the ANR, Moretown Landfill can continue to operate under its existing certification until April 15, 2013. After that, the Route 2 facility will close and Moretown will lose out on the over $500,000 in tipping fees and property taxes it received annually from its host-town agreement.
Although Advanced Disposal Services, the company that owns Moretown Landfill, said in a press release that it “expect[s] to appeal” the ANR’s decision, the town is preparing for a significant decrease in its revenue.
If the facility closes, “I think it’s pretty certain the taxes will go up; it’s just a matter of how much,” Moretown Select Board member Rae Washburn III said.
Currently, the select board is asking representatives to the state legislature, Maxine Grad and Adam Greshin, to try to negotiate a sum of $2.3 million over a five-year period—based on the $465,000 Moretown will receive from the landfill this year—to help the town adjust during the post-closure period.
Moretown has certainly benefitted from hosting the landfill, “but this is a site that has benefitted a significant part of the state as well,” previous select board member Clark Amadon said in February, explaining the board’s request for out-of-town aid.
If Moretown does not receive money from the state, the select board will likely ask for voters’ approval to use money from the Savings Reserve Fund to reduce taxes, at least in the short term.
In the long term, “It’s so important we look at growth for the town,” select board member John Hoogenboom said, so that Moretown doesn’t once again come to depend on just one source of significant revenue.
The ANR denied Moretown Landfill’s recertification on two grounds: “the operator’s failure to control odor and landfill gas emissions at the facility” and “the facility’s contribution to violations of groundwater quality standards,” the Agency explained in its decision announcement.
Since the facility switched ownership from Interstate Waste Services to Advanced Disposal Services this past September, it has invested over $1 million in on-site improvements, including a temporary cover and gas well replacements.
Nevertheless, the ANR ruled that “the application provided by Moretown Landfill fails to demonstrate that proposed operational changes would result in the facility attaining compliance with the standards of the Solid Waste Management Rule.”
Advanced Disposal maintains that the majority of their improvements in the first quarter of 2013 were not considered in the Agency’s review and cited that as the reason for its expected appeal. If Advanced Disposal appeals the ANR’s decision, the case will go to environmental court.
The ANR’s decision should perhaps come as no surprise. Last December the Agency announced its “intent to deny” Moretown Landfill’s recertification after the facility was cited for several environmental violations. During a public comment period that followed, however, the ANR considered over 200 comments from Vermonters explaining how the landfill affects their livelihood.
While many of those comments came from Moretown residents, who either depend on the landfill as a source of revenue or suffer from its strong off-site odors, others came from out-of-towners, such as small business owners, who worry how closing one of the state’s two landfills will increase their already high overhead costs for trash removal, and environmentalists urging the ANR to take a stance against negligent business practices.
The ANR addressed residents’ concern about increased trash removal costs in its decision announcement: “Although there will only be one lined landfill in Vermont, it is important to note that the trash collection and disposal system in New England is regional, and includes other landfills in New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts,” the Agency said.
And the state has already begun investigating new landfill sites. “While there is significant capacity in the existing Vermont landfill, three other sites have also been through local and state permitting,” the ANR said. “For a range of reasons the owners of those sites have not felt that it was worthwhile developing these permitted locations. The closure of Moretown may well make one of these other sites more viable.”
And there is still the possibility that Moretown Landfill will not close. Last year, the landfill submitted permits on both the local and state levels to construct a fourth trash cell on site, but the project was put on hold as Advanced Disposal focused on obtaining recertification for its existing cells.
According to the select board at this week’s meeting, a new trash cell is still a possibility. “We’re not sure what they’re going to do,” board member Michelle Beard said of Moretown Landfill.