In landfill fight’s latest chapter, Dalton voters to decide on emergency zoning extension

By: - June 8, 2021 3:05 pm
A Casella trash bin next to a sign opposing the landfill

Two new grant programs announced by the Environmental Protection Agency in June could help the state and municipalities recycle and reuse more materials, keeping them out of landfills. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story was updated on June 10, 2021. 154,000 gallons of leachate were spilled, not tons. It was also updated to clarify that the House vote on SB 103 was 333 to 33 to pass the bill.  

During Tuesday’s annual town meeting, Dalton residents will vote on extending emergency zoning for another year, one of the measures supported by opponents of a proposed landfill.

The results may affect whether Casella Waste Management Company is allowed to site a landfill on land abutting Forest Lake State Park, one of the few parks in the region with a public beach. A vocal anti-landfill candidate, Jon Swan, is also on the ballot in a bid for tax collector and town clerk. 

Over the past two years, the battle over the landfill has been unfolding at both the local level and in a heated statewide debate over creating a two-mile buffer between landfills and state parks. While proponents of the buffer argue that it is an important environmental protection and safeguard for tourism, opponents say the state permitting process is sufficient and that additional restrictions would have a chilling effect on the siting of landfills.

Casella has denied that Dalton’s lack of zoning was a factor in its decision to construct a landfill there. The town first adopted temporary emergency zoning in response to the proposed landfill during a 2019 town meeting.

In a state-level win for landfill opponents last week, the New Hampshire House revived legislation that would instate a two-mile buffer between landfills and state parks. In a 333-33 vote, the House approved Senate Bill 103, with language from House Bill 177 tacked onto it. The vote to add House Bill 177 passed 183-181. Senate Bill 103 waives certain taxes and requirements on out-of-state businesses completing work during a state of emergency. The maneuver came after the Senate had killed HB 177

In discussions during a House session on Friday, Rep. Andrew Bouldin, a Manchester Democrat, said the measure would be a safeguard for tourism, an important economic driver for the North Country and other parts of the state. Bouldin introduced the amendment to add the buffer back into another Senate bill.

“Though Forest Lake State Park is the one on the chopping block currently, remember that this amendment would protect all state parks, including the state park in your district, whether you represent Kingston State Park, White Lake, Pawtuckaway, Silver Lake, or even Mount Washington,” Bouldin said.

“These places are worth their weight in gold to our state and our economy, and we must protect them for future generations,” he said.

Bouldin and others have pointed to the 154,000 gallons of leachate that recently leaked from a Casella landfill located in Bethlehem as evidence that further protections are necessary. The leak – which may be the largest ever in the state – is currently under investigation by the state. Leachate, which is a combination of rainwater and liquid garbage, is often called garbage juice, and it can be highly toxic. It’s considered a major threat to both aquifer and surface water.

“This policy will help protect these parks from the detrimental effects that landfills can have, like increasing cancer-causing risk factors, harming wildlife, contaminating water systems, and more,” said Rep. Edith Tucker, a Randolph Democrat, in a written statement released after the House vote. Tucker is the prime sponsor of HB 177.

“I am happy the House upheld our support for this important policy and again passed it with bipartisan support,” she said.

Casella is also facing setbacks in the permit application process. Casella has applied for two permits from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services – a wetlands permit and a solid waste management permit. On June 1, the state agency issued a letter to Casella informing the company that the permit application was incomplete.

The letter cited inconsistent reporting of capacity across Casella’s application, as well as missing local and federal approvals. Up to this point, Casella has not sought any local permissions, and the letter indicates that they must do so for the application to move forward.

Historical environmental conditions were also missing, according to the June 1 letter from the state. The letter asks that Casella provide a discussion of “any known or suspected conditions at the site which are or should be of environmental, public health, or safety concern.” The state is also requesting further details about “the facility’s proximity to and impact on sensitive environments,” specifically habitats for endangered and threatened species.

The state found that the hydrogeological and geotechnical reports Casella had provided were “insufficient.” The letter requests additional information.  

In total the letter raises 19 areas that require clarification or additional information. The permitting process will not move forward until Casella provides this information to the state.

Local elections

Jon Swan, who has been a vocal opponent of the landfill and a contentious figure in the fight, is on the ballot in Dalton, running for town clerk and tax collector. He said he will spend the day at the town municipal building, campaigning for office and encouraging Dalton residents to vote yes on Article 11, which would extend temporary emergency zoning.

Those plans faced complications after Swan was served a protective order late on Monday by Vanessa Cardillo, who accused him of stalking. Cardillo’s partner, Doug Ingerson, owns the land committed to be sold to Casella for the siting of the landfill should the relevant permits be approved.

Cardillo and Ingerson live together in Dalton. On the protective order, Cardillo said Swan videotaped her as she was pulling into her driveway on Jan. 8, which he subsequently posted online. The protective order bars Swan from posting any further photographs or videos of Cardillo’s family, residence, or property on social media.

The order also says Swan may not contact Cardillo at her place of employment, school, or “any place she may appear.” Swan is prohibited from coming within 300 feet of Cardillo, per the order.

The case will be heard before a judge on July 1, and the protective order is in effect until the judge makes a ruling.  

Swan previously reported Ingerson for threatening him. That report was filed with the Littleton Police Department on Feb. 28.  

The protective order isn’t keeping Swan home.

“I expect at some point I will be arrested for violating said protective order and, as the courteous State Troopers informed me, jailed,” Swan wrote in an email blast he sent to the nearly 600 subscribers of Save Forest Lake, a website Swan created around his effort to combat the landfill. He sent the email late Monday evening, after he was served the order.

Swan said he has had no interaction with Cardillo since last November, when he was filming a meeting between the Dalton Conservation Commission and Casella at the proposed landfill site. He subsequently uploaded the video to the Save Forest Lake YouTube channel. Swan denies having been on the property or that he flew drones over the property.

“I haven’t been arrested yet,” said Swan, who was campaigning outside of the Dalton municipal building Tuesday.

According to Swan, Cardillo came to vote at around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, at which point the state police informed him he must stay 300 feet away. State police told Swan he could ask the court to suspend the protective order for the day, a request that a judge granted, providing Swan stays 10 feet away from Cardillo. This will allow him to participate in the town meeting on Tuesday. 

The warrant articles, including extending temporary emergency zoning, will be voted on during town meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Results from the local election are expected later in the evening.  

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.