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

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 03.19.04
Fool's Hollow, Quebec


Canadian opponents of Vermont landfill expansion make the issue international

NEWPORT, VT | Opposition to the massive dump expansion plan in the Lake Memphremagog watershed here went international Thursday evening in a big way.

The seventeen Quebec towns in the Memphremagog regional government (MRC) were granted a seat at the table, so to speak, by the Vermont commissioners considering whether to permit NEWS-VT to bury more garbage in its Coventry landfill.

This unprecedented action couldn't have been foreseen by either the commissioners or Casella Waste Management, owner/operator of the landfill, prior to the February hearing during which the Canadians made their first tentative foray into the contentious issue.

The three District 7 commissioners accorded the MRC 'non-party status' at the hearing and will rule within the next few days whether to accord 'full party status'.

This would grant the MRC additional intervention rights but also entail more obligations, such as providing expert testimony to back up any counter-expansion contentions.

The Canadian testimony was blunt: 'Please don't do this. Eventually, it will leak into our drinking water.'

Some 150,000 Quebec residents draw their drinking water from the north end of Lake Memphremagog. That's equivalent to 25 percent of the Vermont population

Only 25 percent of the lake is in Vermont, but the state contains 71 percent of the watershed. And in this part of the world, rivers and streams and lake flow north.

At issue here is a proposal to make the Coventry landfill the largest in the state. It could handle all of Vermont's' garbage. And it would be the fourth largest in New England.

Casella wants state okay to bury up to 2500 tons of waste a day -- up to 370,000 tons a year. In January they scaled back their request from 420,000 tons a year.

They plan to create double-lined burying cells on top of a drainage system that's on top of up to 87 feet of clay.

Visualize a huge plastic bathtub filled with garbage that will eventually be capped over and -- the applicants have implied -- sealed for all eternity.

This, Casella's experts say, will create more than adequate natural and technological barriers to protect the lake.

"There's no question it's good technology," Peter Kohl of Georgeville testified at the hearing. "This is a well-designed site."

"But, sooner or later it will leak. Sooner or later, it will fail. There's no way the applicant can guarantee it will never leak."

"There is absolutely nothing that Nature can do to clean up any leakage of leachate."

There was no support from any Canadian for the landfill.

The Memphremagog MRC has capped a similar expansion plan in its territory that it feared would poison their end of the lake. The Bestan landfill in Magog will be allowed to only bury 60,000 tons a year -- the amount it's estimated that the region generates.

"Reckless," said President Don Fisher of Memphremagog Conservation (MCI).

"A monstrous risk," said Councilor Michael Sudlow of Ogden.

Others Quebec residents speaking out again the proposed expansion included David Price, Member of the Canadian Parliament; Councilor Paul Amos of Stanstead Township; and Mayor Raymond Yates of Stanstead.

Vermonter Joseph Roy, whose rear windows overlook the landfill, said he regularly witnesses large quantities of dust blowing from the landfill when construction wastes are dumped. The dust, he said, contains asbestos and it settles in the watershed.

Pilot Jean-Paul Fournier, who has a hangar at the nearby airport (Casella also covets this land for dump expansion) wanted to know why, if the state is so concerned about any potential gas and oil leakage at his hangar, they aren't more concerned about leachate leakage at the dump.

Brownington tree farmer Bob Walker, a former Vermont legislator, urged the commissioners to look into high-temperature trash incineration as an alternative disposal method.

And, looking around the gymnasium where mostly Canadians sat, he said he had a question:

"Where are the Vermonters?"

No Coventry residents have come forth in opposition. The village is upriver of the dump, and the town gets more than $500,000 in taxes and fees from Casella, plus another $40,000 in contributions for its town educational foundation.

The City of Newport, which abuts Coventry and Lake Memphremagog, is drilling a new drinking water well some 1000 feet from the landfill.

Casella has assured the city fathers and the District 7 Commission the dump expansion will pose no problems for Newport.

The City Council has to date been next to silent on the issue.