Waste district chief proposes delaying landfill permitting

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The head of Chittenden Solid Waste District has proposed shelving permitting applications for a regional landfill in Williston for up to one year.

General Manager Tom Moreau proposed to the Board of Commissioners late last month that permit applications be shelved after the landfill’s conceptual design and economic modeling are completed, according to a Channel 17 recording and unapproved minutes of the May 23 meeting. During that 12-month period, Moreau told the board, waste district staff could focus on enhancing recycling and waste reduction programs.

The board made no decision regarding Moreau’s proposal but is expected to do so at its June meeting. Only eight representatives of the 18-member board were present at the meeting; four positions are vacant.

Moreau said the landfill’s conceptual design process –which includes soliciting public comment – and economic modeling likely would be complete by February 2008. From then until roughly January 2009, Moreau said, waste district staff would focus on programs to further reduce what goes to landfills: construction and demolition material; biodegradable organic matter (such as food scraps); curbside recyclables; and non-curbside recyclables (such as scrap metal and rigid plastics like those used to make kids’ slides). Incentives and cost efficiency programs would be researched, as well as newer technologies. In roughly January 2009, according to Moreau’s proposal, the landfill permitting process would be resuscitated.

Thinking like a voter is in part what brought Moreau to this proposal, he said in an interview. When Chittenden County area voters go to mark their ballots concerning the waste district bond for the landfill (which he said could be three or four years from now), Moreau said he wants voters to know how good the waste district’s recycling and diversion programs are. Right now, virtually all public discussion and media coverage of CSWD is related to the landfill planned for Redmond Road, Moreau said, and the district has many other programs.

“I’m trying to change some of the emphasis,” he said.

Doing both the landfill permitting and the additional research simultaneously may be possible, but it would be “a lot more work,” Moreau said. He expressed concern to the board that if the district does both at once, many people may disregard new or enhanced programs, feeling they can just throw things in the landfill. Staff productivity also would be compromised, he said.

“Productivity would be higher if we’re dealing with one track at a time, and not two tracks at a time,” Moreau said. “You know when we get to permitting it’s going to be total war. What do our marketing people work on today?”

To some, shelving the permitting for a year could look like capitulation to a local opposition group – Vermont Communities Organized Against Landfills – or a demand made last November by Toxics Action Center, a New England environmental advocacy group, to cease landfill planning for one year. Moreau, however, said that isn’t the case.

“I always knew there were alternatives,” he said. “Now I think we have the luxury of having a little time to emphasize them.”

Since November, for example, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in favor of the waste district in a dispute over compensation for land they are seizing for the landfill; that decision, even though it is being contested, means the waste district will not be facing up to $1 million in interest payments for every year they delay construction, Moreau said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in April also gives waste districts greater flexibility, by allowing municipalities (like CSWD) to dictate that waste be taken to their facility. Other changes since the fall include new leadership at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources; Secretary George Crombie, with whom Moreau worked at the City of Burlington years ago, plans to reorganize the agency. A state legislative work group examining solid waste issues also was approved this past session.

Only four board members made public comments after Moreau’s presentation. Williston representative Mike Coates advocated review of rail alternatives for shipping. Coates also said waste district staff should present a plan indicating what resources would be needed to pursue the two tracks simultaneously or separately. (In an interview, Coates indicated he conceptually supports Moreau’s plan, but isn’t certain of the time line.)

CSWD Vice Chairman Bert Lindholm of Jericho suggested moving forward with the permitting process to show commitment to the landfill. He also suggested Moreau cut in half the number of areas to research for program improvements, and reduce the time frame for research to six months.