The Bulletin Board

Environmental group criticizes state decision to consider only first phase of proposed landfill

By: - September 13, 2021 2:16 pm
A sign protesting the proposed landfill, with forest lake in the background

According to the wetlands permit Casella Waste Systems applied for in 2020, the first phase of the project would include constructing the westernmost part of the landfill. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The Conservation Law Foundation is challenging the state’s decision to change course on the wetlands permitting process for a proposed landfill in Dalton.

While the Department of Environmental Services was originally reviewing the wetlands impact for all three phases of the proposed project, the department requested an amendment in August to consider only the impacts in the first phase. The Conservation Law Foundation said that isn’t in line with federal requirements.

According to the wetlands permit Casella Waste Systems applied for in 2020, the first phase of the project would include constructing the westernmost part of the landfill, building necessary infrastructure, and improving Douglas Drive and Route 116, with the second phase extending the landfill to the east and the third phase extending it to the north. 

In addition to state permits, the project proposed by Casella Waste Systems also needs what’s called a 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers since it would impact more than 3 acres of wetlands.

“CLF strongly opposes the department’s attempt to narrow the scope of review to only phase one of the development,” wrote Peter Blair, a CLF staff attorney, in a Sept. 10 letter to the Department of Environmental Services. “GSL [Granite State Landfill] has articulated a clear intention to develop the project beyond phase one.”

“The department’s approach of dividing up and segmenting the full project into smaller individual parts will ignore the true scope, scale, and severity of the proposed action,” Blair wrote.

The Conservation Law Foundation argued that splitting the project into smaller parts is prohibited by federal law called the National Environmental Policy Act, also known as NEPA. 

“Under the NEPA review process, neither the applicant nor the federal agency may divide the full project into smaller segments for purposes of conducting its impact review. To do so would constitute illegal segmentation, i.e., dividing the applicant’s overall plan and project into smaller parts or components to create the appearance that the proposed action will have less significant environmental effects,” Blair wrote.

Rene Pelletier, the assistant director of DES’s water division, who is handling the permit process for the department, said that if Casella received approval, the company would have to come back for additional permits for phases two and three.

“Why would we approve 17 acres of fill when that’s far greater than what I suspect we will see in phase one?” Pelletier said.

“It doesn’t mean they get a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said. “Keep in mind, 20 years down the road if they came in with a phase two, they’re going to undergo the same scrutiny and rigorous approval that they are for phase one.”

Pelletier said the state decided it wants to focus on looking at phase one development over a 20-year window. He called it a “common-sense approach” and said handling the phases separately would give the state 10 to 15 years of experience “on what the hydrology looks like” at the site before making a determination about approving subsequent phases.

The Department of Environmental Services announced on Friday it would be holding a public information session on Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. Opponents of the landfill are planning to protest the landfill in a rally before the public information session.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She 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.