The following letter to the editor was submitted by Newport Mayor Paul Monette.
At the October 15, 2018 Newport City Council Regular Meeting, Charlie Pronto, representing D.U.M.P., and Robert Benoit, representing Memphremagog Conservation, presented their concerns that leachate may be leaking from the landfill, that the City’s Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF) may not be properly equipped to treat leachate given “PFAS” concerns, and, they asked the City to formally oppose the landfill expansion.
Upon the completion of their presentation, Mr. Chenette moved that the City stop taking leachate until proven safe, and to oppose the expansion of the landfill. The vote was unanimous.
The City listened to the concerns expressed by these community members, took immediate action by suspending the acceptance of leachate to allow the council members time to research the concerns expressed about the leachate, about the WWTF, and, they wrote a letter to the Act 250 Commission opposing the landfill expansion.
The Council recognized they had yet to hear a formal presentation from the landfill and they had yet to hear from the Agency of Natural Resources, that is the regulatory authority for the landfill as well as the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. The motion was intentionally worded so that Council could take action to either deem leachate safe or unsafe.
The City of Newport held an open house at the Wastewater Treatment Plant on Saturday, November 3. The purpose was to invite the public to tour the WWTF so that they could see the inner workings, and ask questions about the digestion and regulatory process.
The City then hosted a public forum on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, where the public was invited to attend a presentation by The Vt. Agency of Natural Resources as well as Casella Waste Systems, Inc.
The meeting presented an opportunity for the public to learn about the State’s regulatory authority over the landfill and the Wastewater Treatment Plant. The meeting also presented the public with an opportunity to ask Casella Land Systems’ questions.
The Agency confirmed that “DEC has determined that leachate can continue to be managed at WWTFs with no adverse impacts to human health or the environment from PFAS in the waters ￼receiving that effluent.”
Further, the Agency confirmed that “there is no indication that the NEWSVT lined landfill is leaking,” and that “no groundwater contamination from the unlined landfill has been detected at or near the property boundary of the NEWSVT facility.”
Their findings can be found on the City’s webpage at this link: https://goo.gl/P7Cfjk
After the November 27, public forum, I continued my research separate and apart from the presentations, and I did take the time to visit the Casella landfill on the Airport Road. Other council members did the same.
At a regularly scheduled council meeting on December 17, 2018, another presentation was provided to include representatives from D.U.M.P., the Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation, Solid Waste District and Casella Waste Systems, Inc. (NEWSVT).
After a lengthy and spirited discussion which included many questions from the public, Council President Denis Chenette moved that “based on the research done by and information provided to the council, I move that we resume the acceptance of leachate at the Wastewater Treatment Facility.
The levels of contaminants are found to be well within the federal standards, as well as the state standards which are even more restrictive.
Furthermore, I would like to see a partnering of the City of Newport and Casella Waste Management regarding the research and possible implementation of future upgrading to the City’s wastewater treatment plant with the oversight of the appropriate state department.
I would also move that the letter to the Act 250 Commission be withdrawn due to information regarding air quality and the implementation of systems currently in use and proposed at the Casella facility located in Coventry.
Seconded by Ms. Raboin. The motion passed on a 3 to 2 decision.
This decision was made after the council members deemed it was safe to treat leachate at our Waste Water Treatment Facility through conducting hours of research.
I was the tie-breaking vote because I put emotions aside and based my decision on science, research, and the evidence presented by the State of Vermont that is the regulatory authority.
At this time I want to stress to the public that our Waste Water Treatment Facility is not polluting Lake Mempremagog.
It meets or exceeds the standards set by the State of Vermont and EPA. Our city employees take pride in the operation of our facility. I can assure the public that the effluent discharged into the Clyde River, and the safety of the public and the lake is and will always be a top priority of the City.
We have always been, and are committed to being, in compliance with our permit and the state regulatory authority.
Once leachate was proven safe, the next responsibility for the Council was to look at the economics. If the city were to suspend taking leacheate, which has been proven safe and has been a normal part of operations since 2009, the sewer rents in both Newport and Derby would see a $200 increase in their annual sewer rates in order to compensate for the gap that a termination of leachate treatment would cause.
Casella Waste Systems Inc.’s current ANR permit requires them to investigate both on and off-site pre-treatment methods for leachate and PFAS. The City will also soon be required to adopt an ‘Industrial Waste Ordinance.’
The City Council believes we will have some advantages by partnering with Casella on our respective mandated upgrade costs which could eventually have a favorable impact on the utility rents.
Regarding the petitions which the city council voted not to place on the ballot for Town Meeting. The City Council respects the right for citizens to bring petitions forward.
However, based upon a review of these petitions and a validity question posed by a member of the public, I continued to do more research. I learned that the subject matter contained in the requested petitions are beyond the authority of the voters to decide at town meeting.
In other words, a vote on these articles would not be binding. The requests in the petitions are reserved to the City Council, who is charged with the supervisory authority of the City.
It is the City Council that has the authority and control over the utility systems and it is the City Council’s responsibility to determine the appropriateness of any contract.
Vermont Statutes are clear that the City Council has these inherent authorities. For these reasons, the Council is not obligated to include the requested articles in the warning, even when the requirements for presenting the petitions were satisfied.
Both the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the City Attorney advised us that since the articles are non-binding, it is better not to give a false impression to the voters.
I have been the Mayor of the City of Newport for 10 years and it is a responsibility I take very seriously. My first priority is the ethical treatment of our citizens and their concerns.
This has been an emotional matter for some of our citizens and I am proud of the way the City Council handled these concerns.
We listened, we took action, did our research and made a timely determination based on science, evidence, facts and the best interest for the City.
It may not be the decision some of our citizens had hoped for. It is, however, a decision based on a sound process and I am confident our conclusion is the best for the City of Newport.
I expect the people of Newport to be passionate about difficult matters. In the end, we are all Vermonters and proud of our strong community.Are you on Instagram? Cool. So are we. CLICK HERE to follow us for a behind the scenes look at Newport Dispatch.