Landfill review presents potential obstacles

Town has limited say in process under state law

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The proposed landfill faces obstacles beyond widespread opposition from Williston residents. The permit process can potentially produce lengthy delays and outright roadblocks – although the town’s review may be more akin to a speed bump.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District wants to build a landfill on Redmond Road that will accommodate refuse from throughout the area. Residents in neighborhoods near the site have formed a coalition to fight the landfill.

CSWD’s governing board has yet to approve the project. But that approval seems likely given the district’s long-running and expensive legal battle to acquire the site and extensive planning for the landfill.

If the district moves forward with the project, the focus will shift to navigating a complex permitting process that involves two state entities as well as Williston’s Development Review Board. The process could easily produce substantial delays, wrote Tom Moreau, CSWD general manager, in a letter to the town earlier this year.

“One obvious potential delay is the appeal of our permits, which could set the schedule back a year,” he wrote.

The state could reject the landfill for a number of reasons; the DRB is allowed to review the project but not deny it outright if it meets the town’s land-use rules.

A change in law enacted in 2004 limits scrutiny of landfills by municipalities. The law now allows only a site plan review that looks at things such as location, size, height and parking.

Paul Gillies, an attorney who represents the town, has told Williston officials that the Development Review Board can impose requirements but not reject the project simply because it is a landfill.

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is charged with certifying that the project meets technical standards governing landfills. The process includes a review of the site itself, as well as design and operation of the facility. The agency may impose conditions or requirements “as deemed necessary to protect public health and safety and the environment,” the review rules state.

The agency’s review affords multiple opportunities for public comment. All property owners within a half-mile of the landfill must be notified. Notices of public hearings must be published in area newspapers.

A CSWD timeline estimates it will take five months to navigate the certification process.

“I suppose it’s possible,” said Chris Wagner, chief of the Agency of Natural Resources Solid Waste Compliance Section. The review time depends on factors ranging from the completeness of the application to employees’ work schedules, he said.

Would hundreds of opponents convince the agency to deny a permit? “For us, it’s purely about conformance with the rules,” Wagner said.

The landfill will also be reviewed under the state’s Act 250 land-use law. The process will consider whether the landfill meets Act 250 criteria. The District 4 Environmental Commission, which has offices in Essex Junction, will conduct the review.

The commission will likely consider criteria that cover the landfill’s traffic, stormwater and aesthetic impacts, said Peter Keibel, co-coordinator of District 4.

Huge numbers of opponents could slow the process if they testify individually, he said. If many people testify, it could force the commission to conduct additional hearings.

The waste district’s timeline for the Act 250 process is about six months, which Keibel said is realistic.

Officials say there can be some overlap of the three review processes, potentially reducing the total time it takes to receive approvals. CSWD estimates it will take a year to obtain all the permits.

Both town and state decisions can be appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court. When the decisions of more than one board or agency are appealed for the same project, the court will sometimes consolidate them into a single case, said Kathleen Lott, docket clerk for the court.

Appeals have taken as little as a month to as long as four years, she said. It all depends on the complexity of the case and whether parties attempt to settle or battle until the bitter end.

“There is no particular time frame,” Lott said. “It’s on such a case-by-case basis. Everything is so individual with land use.”