Expanding a landfill takes more effort than finding the space, spending the money on a crew and excavating the land. The proper permits must be in place before crews can start digging in.
At New England Waste Services of Vermont’s landfill in Coventry, Vermont, the planned expansion has been years in the making.
Casella Waste Systems Inc., Rutland, Vermont, purchased the landfill from a Canadian company called Waste USA Inc. in 1994. Before Waste USA took over ownership in the 1970s, a local man was running the unlined landfill along with a racetrack and junkyard. Eventually the racetrack and junkyard were shut down and the landfill was lined.
Casella received the facility Waste USA already constructed on-site and the first lined landfill section at the facility through its acquisition. Once the acquisition was complete, Casella began developing the landfill and has operated it for 25 years.
Its latest landfill expansion permit is under review and requests 53 acres to provide 14 million yards of capacity. One element of the request is to install a heat recovery system on-site, a larger scale version of its sister landfill in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, that uses the recovered heat for greenhouses.
“We have a bigger footprint in Vermont and more waste coming in; we believe we’ll have more thermal BTU (British thermal units) available to us,” Joe Gay, New England Waste Services of Vermont engineer, says. “It’s larger scale, and if we’re fortunate enough to get permits, which we think looks favorable, by spring or summer we’ll have all our permits in place and we will be able to bring in greenhouses or maybe something else with heat recovery.”
The landfill is permitted to take 600,000 tons per year, but Gay says it is currently only taking in 500,000 tons per year. By permit, the landfill can accept 5,000 tons per day of waste, but the average acceptance rate is 2,200 to 2,400 tons per day. The landfill only accepts municipal solid waste (MSW) from Vermont sources but does accept special waste, such as contaminated soils and wastewater treatment plant sludges, from other states.
There are several permits required for this landfill expansion, Gay says, and all but three have been received. The permits that are still needed include a Vermont transportation permit, which Gay describes as “simple and uncontroversial,” a state solid waste permit and the Act 250 permit.
Casella has submitted what Gay calls a “technically incomplete” application and has responded to a state comment letter asking for more clarity or information on certain aspects of Casella’s solid waste permit application. “There were about 30 things in that letter, and we’ve responded to every one of those items. We hope that the application will be considered technically complete,” Gay says.
If the application is considered technically complete, there will be a 15-day notice period followed by a public hearing on the application. Once the public and the state agree that the application is technically and administratively complete, Casella will receive a drafted permit.
The drafted permit will also undergo public hearing, then a 15-day public posthearing and another month-long waiting period before the final permit is issued.
“If we can get to the point where we’re technically complete in February, then public comment posting would be in March or April,” Gay says. “We’d get a permit by July or fall, but if someone from the public determines there’s a technical fault, then the process may take longer.”
For Act 250, Casella must prove that it fulfills 10 criteria that consider issues ranging from air pollution and the impact on development to regional planning and aesthetics. Gay says the company filed for the permit in October 2017 and had an initial public meeting to determine interested party status in November. On Dec. 28, Casella had a site visit with interested parties. But progress on its Act 250 permit is on hold until the state solid waste permit goes through.
“Act 250 has indicated that your solid waste permit is one of the 10 criteria, and it’s such a big, necessary permit that until you get a technically complete or a drafted permit, the state will sit on the [Act 250] application,” Gay says.
Once the solid waste permit is granted, the state will resume the Act 250 application process and then schedule a hearing. The hearing may take place a few weeks or a month later than the solid waste hearing and would require Casella to present how the New England Waste Services landfill meets the 10 criteria. The state will take input from the public and issue or deny the permit following, at most, three hearings.
“So there again, I’d expect a permit in late summer or early fall if everything goes well,” Gay says. “At the end of 2018, we would have all the necessary permits to expand.”
According to Gay, Casella’s application is different than a typical landfill expansion in that it requests a horizontal expansion rather than a deeper one. “We aren’t asking for a higher rate of tonnage either annually or daily,” he says. “The nuts and bolts of our daily operations are all the same, what is being asked for is an expansion of the facility. It will be longer and operate under the same conditions as today.”
JUST A PHASE
So far, the New England Waste Services of Vermont landfill has gone through six phases of expansion. The first phase started when Waste USA purchased the property. The second phase was built by the Canadian group at the time Casella bought the operations. Casella received permits for the third phase in 1998 and began constructing its first cell that same year. Phase four, a 45-acre expansion, was granted in 2004.
During the fourth phase, Act 250 required Casella to investigate a method for addressing its unlined landfills. The unlined portions of the landfill were close to the Black River, which connects to a river that spills into Sherbrook, Quebec’s drinking water. Gay says there is contamination from the unlined landfills that impacts the perimeter of the landfill, but all contamination is contained on-site.
The requirement to investigate its unlined landfills caused Casella to launch phase five. In 2005, the company applied for phase five, which required building a lined landfill at the northeast end of the site. Crews built one cell, moved all waste from the unlined landfill to the new cell and cleaned up any contaminated soil in the unlined portion.
Phase six is the current expansion project that reaches toward the south of the site, which houses cheaper land space away from the Black River and public view.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
Casella began its current permitting process around four years ago. The first obstacle to get through was working with a nearby airport on a previous agreement. Casella agreed to keep its operations 3,200 feet away from the runway at the airport, and Casella wanted to reduce the setback. The airport’s owners agreed to reduce the setback when Casella agreed to convey 11 acres of space to expand its runway in the opposite direction. Casella also created a 20-foot-wide easement of airport road that connected to the Black River for recreation.
The second step was getting smaller permits in place, such as wetlands permits, U.S. Department of Agriculture approval and completing a historical preservation study. Receiving these permits allowed Casella to submit its Act 250 permit. “[The Act 250 permit] pulls in other permits and uses those permits as positive findings that the project is feasible,” Gay says.
While adding a geothermal system is part of Casella’s plan with the permit, its reason for expanding is to continue operations in the future.
“We manage waste and recycling in the northeast,” Gay says. “We want to keep this landfill open for as long as we can.”
Gay says the New England Waste Services of Vermont landfill is the only operating landfill in the state, which produces 600,000 tons of MSW per year. The state is exporting a portion of MSW, which Gay says makes the New England Waste Services landfill a “valuable resource.”
“If you can’t take your trash bags out to the curb and they disappear, then we have a problem,” he says. “I believe we provide a really valuable utility and service to the state of Vermont, and frankly, we do a pretty good job.”
Gay says Casella is proud to be a transparent and compliant company. “We have to be. We have a big responsibility to the people in this state, and it’s to manage their waste responsibly.”