John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 02.16.04
Fool's Hollow, Quebec


Toxic Time Bomb #2

NEWPORT, VT | Everyone official from Governor Jim Douglas down to the city rat catcher here appears to have faith in Vermont's Big Dump Guy.

They all want to believe him when he says he'll never do anything to pollute beautiful Lake Memphremagog.

John Casella of Rutland is the king of garbage in the Green Mountain State. His parent company, Casella Waste Management, owns and operates the old Waste USA landfill in the Lake Memphremagog watershed.

On Thursday, February 19, at 7 p.m. he is going to tell a public meeting that they can trust him to do the right thing if they allow him to bury up to 440,000 tons of waste in his landfill each and every year into the distant future.

All they need is a little faith:

  • That Casella Waste Management will never accept any toxic materials in the 2500 tons a day (five days a week year 'round) that will be trucked to their Coventry landfill from all over Vermont and its neighbors.

  • That if by some weird circumstance toxic material does make its way to the landflll, his employees will never bury it -- if they discover it, they will contain it and safely dispose of it.

  • That the plastic landfill liners will last forever and never leak toxic fluids into the drainage basin and thus into the lake from which some 200,000 Canadian neighbors get their drinking water. However, the US Environmental Protection Agency says plastic liners won't last, and they will leak.

  • That if by some weird circumstance -- say, an earthquake -- the plastic membrane is breached, the compacted clay bottom will prevent the poisons from seeping into the lake. Of course, toxins like benzene will diffuse through three feet of compacted clay in five years, studies show.

  • That the drainage pipes that collect the millions of gallons of toxic leachate in the covered pits will never clog and will always work. The pipes are buried under mountains of waste and there's no way to get down in there to check but, hey, we need a little faith here.

  • That Casella will clean up a couple of old, unlined landfills pits that are said now to be seeping leachates. Who knows what's in those pits? To be fair, Casella didn't bury that stuff -- the problem pre-dates his stewardship.
Yes, trust me, the argument goes, and trust technology. Let's all show a little faith here.

Bob Walker, a Brownington tree farmer, isn't buying into Casella's plea for faith-based approval of his plan to make a small personal fortune by burying millions of tons of other people's discards in our drainage basin.

"Explain to me what happens if there's an earthquake," says Walker, a former member of the Vermont Legislature.

Robert Benoit of Austin, Quebec, doesn't have much faith, either.

"They [plastic liners] always leak," says Benoit, a retired member of Quebec's National Assembly who has been involved in the fight to close down the huge Bestan landfill that opponents says is threatening the north end of Lake Memphremagog.

And I don't trust them, either.

I don't have any particular environmental credentials -- hell, I'm just a hillbilly snapshooter whose family has lived around Lake Memphremagog for more than 200 years.

I don't think the problems will necessarily surface in my lifetime. Bob Walker, Robert Benoit, John Casella, and I will be dust.

But I believe that our great-grandchildren will pay the price for our lets-bury-the-problem mindset.

And they won't be calling Lake Memphremagog 'Beautiful Waters.'