Letter: The landfill expansion decision by Pam Ladds

in Letter to the Editor

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Solid Waste Management Division has granted approval of a proposed Coventry Landfill expansion of 51 acres. The decision was based on existing rules that are probably outdated, and certainly do not address the very real concerns of those of us who live in the area or who are impacted by the potential threats to our waters. We, who would like to learn from the tragic experiences of Bennington and their well contaminations, find this unsatisfying.

The section of the approval that addresses the questions raised by the public comments is lengthy and mind-blowing. It should be required reading for any of us in the Coventry/Newport area. Those impacted by the volume of heavy traffic should also be interested in the abdication of state involvement. The diminishing value of homes in Coventry is apparently of no concern.

Landfills are old technology, or as Chittenden Solid Waste District says “waste is a design flaw.” Not that Chittenden is a shining light as its landfill is unused and its waste shipped up to us in the NEK. I just appreciate the sentiment. Landfills are from previous centuries. This century has other options and just because we live “up here” does not mean we should accept outdated technology and attitudes. Although it has been pointed out that the new landfill liners are “new technology” they are still being deposited into an outdated system. Landfills themselves are no longer necessary or state of the art. We can learn from other states and countries.

Landfills and other potentially harmful environmental industries are usually located in poor, rural areas where residents struggle economically. Meaning the assumptions are that:

• We won’t notice.
• We are used to being abused and won’t know how to stop it happening.
• We won’t understand the possibilities of harm to us or future generations.
• We accept bribes to continue to allow this to happen. And in reality that one has been historically true. Casella pays Coventry, Newport, Montpelier, Essex Junction and others to take the leachate and host the landfill. A lot of money.

Personally, I don’t like any of those assumptions. And reject them all.

Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom are trying to reinvent themselves. If we allow ourselves to be the garbage dump for the country (we take waste from New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and probably other states too) we are risking the future of that “reinvention.” If Vermont is marketing our great four-season outdoor activities and eco-tourism, our pristine lakes and waterways, then we are risking all that by allowing others to literally crap in our backyard. Not only are we are putting our immediate area at risk, we allow the highways to be damaged as gargantuan trucks blow through the small towns on their way up here. We pay for those roads, the traveling trucks do not. The landfill that collects a lot of money from those trucks does not pay for the roads, or compensate for the noise in the communities as juggernauts rattle through. Our taxes pay to support their industry. Win for them and another loss for us.

We are discouraging recycling, repurposing and reusing. We are encouraging waste, and toxic waste, by not making other communities take care of their own garbage, clean up their own wasteful habits and look at their own behaviors. So easy to put out the garbage and have it just disappear. No fuss, no mess in Burlington or Rutland, just truck it on up to the NEK. Why waste less? Toxic stuff? No problem, Coventry takes that too. Remember when Burlington got upset last year? Residents were told that they had to pay to take away tons of poison fill. Shame! Guess where that fill ended up? Yup, right here and the landfill was paid. Other cities need to be responsible for their own “stuff” — if we want our wasteful behavior to change.

We are risking poisoning ourselves, our neighbors to the north and our children and grandchildren. A cavalier “oh the new liners will last for 700 years” is no consolation, and is certainly nothing more than a wild guess. That is not the legacy we should be paying forward.

There are alternatives to landfills and Casella/NEWSVT has an opportunity here to be ahead of the curve, instead of trailing along in the rear of the rest of the world. A quick google shows several alternatives. Explore them! Research others. Why wait 20 years until the landfill overflows?

NEWSVT (aka Casella Waste) is a corporation that may be following best practices as far as they know. Or not! The Agency of Natural Resources may be functioning independently, coming to clear decisions based on current thinking. Or not! They are certainly an agency constrained by regulations and bureau-think, and with no concern for the surrounding area beyond their narrow purview. We, community residents, do not live in test-tube — a narrow frame is a disservice to us. Although we are all unable to see into the future there are enough questions for us, the residents of the NEK, to not accept this thinking and to call for a full independent investigation, and an exploration of alternatives. Our recent experience up here in the NEK showed us promises too good to be true are just that, politicians can have blinders on, and corporations can operate fraudulently. We residents told the powers-that-be that the emperors were stark naked. We were not believed and were ignored. Dollar signs rolling around in eyeballs tends to get that response. The outcome from that debacle will haunt us for many years. No more EB-5 types of “investment” that benefit only the elites and harm the rest of us. And no investment without verification, checks and balances firmly in place.

Will the landfill expansion be another, even-more permanent “hole” — do we want to risk our future in this way? Newport residents, based on experience, might have some strong feelings about this.

We need to learn from that experience. To not trust promises without substantial evidence to support them. And certainly not trust either corporations or state/local entities without massive input and exploration of the alternatives. Conflicts of interest are notorious for messing with good judgments or listening skills. We can refuse to be the garbage can of the states. And we can certainly refuse to be chickens with foxes as our overlords.

Local Newport and Coventry people need to show up at every possible meeting concerning the landfill and the potential expansion. And to not be silenced.

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