Waste district ends landfill buyout talks

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The Chittenden Solid Waste District last week ended talks with the Town of Williston about a buyout that could have cost at least $76 million. The buyout, if it had proceeded, would have released the town from an agreement to host a proposed regional landfill.

“It’s a two-party discussion and when one party says they don’t want to talk anymore you don’t have a whole lot of choice,” Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire said. “…That doesn’t mean it’s the end of discussions period, it just means it’s the end of discussions on this buyout option.”

Solid waste district Manager Tom Moreau said it was out of respect for Williston – so as not to string town officials along – that the buyout talks were halted.

“We don’t think this is the best time (to continue the discussion),” Moreau said. “There’s a lot more work to do. We don’t know what the alternatives would be.”

Moreau said the district continues to look at options for reducing the waste stream – from expanding the kinds of recyclables it will accept (plastics Numbers 3-7 are expected to be accepted within the next year) to increasing the amount of organic matter collected.

“There’s a point of diminishing returns,” Moreau said. “There’s a point where if you remove enough, it’s no longer economically viable to build a landfill.”

As research work continues, Moreau said, all alternatives will be considered.

“If the landfill is still a good idea, we’re going to go through with that,” he said. “If the landfill no longer is a good idea, then I don’t think it’s Williston’s responsibility to buy the district out.” Moreau emphasized that is his personal opinion, not necessarily the opinion of the board’s.

Unofficial minutes of the Jan. 24 solid waste district board meeting indicate that Commissioner Paul Stabler of South Burlington said the buyout discussion was done as a “courtesy.”

“There are no viable alternatives to a landfill at this point in time and it is ethically responsible to take care of our own (Chittenden County) trash,” the minutes say Stabler indicated. The parenthetical statement appears in the minutes.

The board did not take a formal vote and nine commissioners were present, Moreau said. According to the District’s Web site, three seats on the 18-member board are vacant.

Moreau said if a buyout was further considered, the solid waste district would not have required Williston to pay back the $1 million it was paid in the early 1990s as compensation for signing the Host Town Agreement. A landfill known as “Phase 3,” run in the early-to-mid 1990s, had an impact on Williston, Moreau said. “We don’t expect that money back.”

Still, the cost of a buyout could have been prohibitive. In a Jan. 19 memo to the Board of Commissioners, Moreau outlined four potential buyout costs. The district’s costs since the host town agreement was signed amounted to over $4.3 million. Hinesburg Sand and Gravel, the business in a legal battle over the land, might require reimbursement for legal expenses, an amount the business had not yet shared with district officials. The proposed landfill is estimated to save the district a net of $72 million over the current practice of transferring waste to the two private landfills. And then there are inflation costs.

In October, McGuire wrote a letter formally requesting talks with the solid waste district about buying out of the “Host Town Agreement.” Williston voters in 1992 approved the sale of town land to the solid waste district and the agreement to host a future regional landfill. Solid waste district officials have said 2011 is the earliest the landfill would open, in part due to an ongoing lawsuit over land with Hinesburg Sand and Gravel. Moreau said he expects a conceptual design for the landfill will be available for public comment in April.