South Hadley grapples with landfill questions
SOUTH HADLEY — With the end in sight for the town’s controversial landfill, officials are trying to decide whether to close the landfill entirely and explore alternative methods of waste disposal, or expand the landfill and reopen it under a new operator.
That was the topic of a community forum held Thursday at Town Hall. Town residents seemed divided on the issue, but Board of Health strongly supported closing the facility entirely, saying the landfill is not environmentally sustainable.
“We’re truly at a crossroads as to where we go from here,” said Select Board Chairman John Hine. “It’s important to get a sense of what the community wants.”
Advanced Disposal, the company contracted by the town to run the landfill since September 2012, gave its one-year closure notice in a letter to the town March 11. Under that scenario, the landfill will stop accepting waste in March 2014, and the closure will become complete in October 2014.
If the town wants to keep the landfill open, Hine said there are three options:
∎ The town could take over the facility, at a huge capital expense.
∎ The town could to partner with a contractor to run the facility.
∎ The town could hire an outside operator, like Advanced Disposal, to run the facility.
If the landfill remains open, it would need to be expanded because it will be full by the time Advanced Disposal leaves in March.
Board of Health members are concerned that keeping the landfill open could mean a continuation of the health and environmental problems that have plagued the facility for most of its existence.
The decision to close the landfill came after months of complaints. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cited Advanced Disposal in 2012 for failing to cover the site properly and failing to quell strong odors. In January the company received a notice of noncompliance for taking in ink sludge without reporting it to the South Hadley Board of Health.
Board of Health member Suzanne Cordes said problems at the landfill include allowing the dumping of materials that make a “rotten egg smell” in the air.
“DEP is saying to us, You are not monitoring the landfill,” she said. “This is dangerous business. Hosting the landfill will be a long-term problem for the town.”
As for the financial repercussions of closing the landfill, officials said it could mean losing $1,465,000 in benefits the landfill was providing and require a new way to dispose of residents’ trash. That amount is broken down this way: $800,000 in hosting fees, $280,000 in free trash disposal, $50,000 in a yearly payment from the operator, $15,000 in household hazardous waste collection fees, $20,000 in free disposal of wood waste and $300,000 in disposal of the town’s wastewater treatment plant sludge.
“Our program is very strong,” said Department of Public Works Superintendent Jim Reidy. “It’s actually one of the best in the state. When the landfill closes up, trash fees will go up significantly.”
If the landfill closes, fees for curbside trash removal will increase. South Hadley uses a green bag program for curbside trash pickup in which residents dispose of trash in bags that cost $1 each for large bags and 50 cents for small bags. There is no flat household fee for trash disposal and recycling is free.
The Solid Waste Advisory Committee anticipates that if the landfill closes, the fee for large bags would increase to $2 and small bags to $1. The Committee also recommends installing a flat household fee of $50 and a recycling center fee of $20.
Curbside pickup for a fee, recycling and composting were presented at the forum as alternatives to keeping the landfill open.
“Landfills are dinosaurs,” Cordes said. “They are simply not sustainable.”
Meanwhile, Hine said he can’t see keeping the landfill open without Board of Health support.
“When two out of three members of the Board of Health say they don’t want the landfill to continue, it’s very difficult to justify the expense and time needed to pursue options for keeping it open,” Hine said. “All we can do as a community is to promote recycling and try to find ways to reduce the waste we have to get rid of.”