Landfill debate moves to Montpelier

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The controversy over a proposed landfill in Williston has jump-started discussions on solid waste at the state level.

Introduced late last month, Senate Bill 136 would create a group to study current state law and best management practices for solid waste facilities.

“It seemed to me that after 15 or 20 years since the last time there was a full evaluation (of solid waste management) that it was time to go back and look at where we are,” Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden County, the bill’s co-author, said last week. “… Every time we recycle plastic or reuse something, we’re saving gallons of fossil fuel energy and that’s a strong interest in my committee – how do we conserve what we’ve got?”

Lyons is chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy committee, where the bill currently is under consideration. She also was a member of the Williston Selectboard in 1992 when the town board signed a contract with Chittenden Solid Waste District agreeing to host the proposed landfill. Lyons noted Senate Bill 136 arose out of discussions she and Reps. Jim McCullough and Mary Peterson had with a local citizens’ group opposed to the landfill proposed for Redmond Road.

If the bill passes this legislative session, the Agency of Natural Resources would be required to convene a work group, which would include citizens, by July 1, with a report due to both the house and senate committees on natural resources and energy next January.

“I would think they’re going to want to look at where all the landfills are, how they’re regulated, guidelines for establishing new landfills… what are the lining requirements for landfills, are they still effective … All those things people have been concerned about during the dialogue of the Williston landfill they would probably want to look at for the state in general,” Lyons said.

Both Tom Moreau, general manager for the Chittenden Solid Waste District, and Craig Abrahams, a spokesman for a citizens’ group opposed to the landfill, welcome the bill.

“So many communities I’ve been reading about and talking to, there’s so much more involvement at the state level than here in Vermont,” Moreau said this week, noting that the Agency of Natural Resources changed little in the state’s comprehensive solid waste management strategy in 2006, the last time it was updated. By state law, the agency is required to update the strategy every five years.

Moreau questioned the proposed makeup of the work group – the proposal does not appear to include representatives of either of Vermont’s current landfills – and he questioned if Vermont’s population of 650,000 is big enough to muscle industries to take responsibility for disposing of product packaging. The legislative bill requests a report on the costs and benefits of such a “cradle to grave” approach.

Abrahams, a representative of VOCAL – Vermont Organized Communities Against Landfills, is enthused about the bill.

“Our ultimate goal would be waste reduction, increased recycling, focus on zero waste,” Abrahams said. “The three of those put together pretty much negate the need for any landfill.”

The group also wants to understand why state regulations don’t require a certificate of necessity for new landfills.

“Our hope is that this crazy unnecessary proposal is killed,” Abrahams said, meaning a new Williston landfill.

Lyons doesn’t anticipate that would be the working group’s recommendation.

“I don’t expect that we would see a recommendation to have a moratorium put on all landfills in the state,” Lyons said. “But it very much could affect the operation of the Williston landfill and the waste district,” from how waste is collected to the amount of land used each year and over time.

Lyons said she hopes the bill will move to the full Senate by Friday in order to receive best consideration in both the House and Senate this term.