Landfill dissent may spread to Essex

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

While Williston town officials explore buying out of an agreement to host a regional landfill, those against the project are turning to Essex residents to widen opposition.

Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire last week sent a letter to Tom Moreau, general manager of the Chittenden Solid Waste District, that said the town would like to “explore the concept” of buying out of a 1992 agreement to host a regional landfill.

In the two-paragraph letter, McGuire said the town “has no interest in breaching the host town agreement.” Moreau said he expected the district’s board of commissioners to discuss the letter Wednesday night, after this week’s Observer had gone to print.

In 1992, Williston voters by a 3-1 margin gave town officials the authority to sign a “host town agreement” with the Chittenden Solid Waste District. The 66-page document outlines conditions for selling land to the solid waste district for use as a regional landfill. The District opened an interim regional landfill in December 1992, and closed it when it reached capacity in 1995.

Though a legal battle over the land and the permitting process (see page 5) make the opening of the proposed landfill potentially years away, this summer residents began organizing to oppose it. As of last week, more than 900 residents had signed a petition opposing the project, according to Williston Neighborhood Coalition member Craig Abrahams. Some residents have said they were not informed about the landfill plan prior to purchasing their houses, and they believe it will affect their property values. Others have expressed health concerns (see related story page 3).

An attorney hired by the town earlier this month said breaking the host town agreement by opposing the landfill would “expose the town to significant liabilities,” in part due to money paid to the town by the District.

The town has received nearly $3.7 million from the Chittenden Solid Waste District since the signing of the host town agreement, according to information on the District’s Web site. McGuire said though he can’t quickly verify the accuracy of each line item, the list accurately reflects his memory of how the host town fees – informally called “landfill money” in previous years – were being spent.

Most of the money has gone toward capital improvements that touch nearly every facet of town. Some money has gone toward fire and police equipment (over $700,000); sidewalk, path and footbridge improvements (over $700,000); other public works equipment and projects (over $900,000); Williston schools (over $300,000) and cemetery land and improvements (over $250,000). Money also has gone toward recreation, library and town office infrastructure improvements. The fees also pay for annual environmental student scholarships.

McGuire said town officials will be involved in the months ahead regardless of the District’s response to his letter.

“We still have an obligation to make sure people’s concerns are addressed by the solid waste district during the permitting process,” McGuire said.

The opposition group is pursuing their agenda of defeating the landfill by expanding to Essex. Bob Marcotte of Essex Junction, a developer, said a member of the Williston coalition called him this week about starting a petition drive in the neighborhoods located across the river from the proposed landfill.

Marcotte said Pinewood Manor, for which he is developer, Perkins Bend, and Forestdale Heights developments would be most affected by the project. When a landfill was active in Williston in the early 1990s, Marcotte said the Perkins Bend condominium roofs drew numerous seagulls that carried waste from the landfill and left their own waste on what were originally blacktop roofs.

“Within six months to a year they were white and all the chicken bones were rolling down onto their lawns,” he said.

CSWD plans to announce dates of public meetings to discuss the conceptual design of the proposed landfill in the coming week.