by Hilary Niles vtdigger.org Operations at the Moretown Landfill, including cleanup, are stuck in a holding pattern while the state reviews a new proposal for groundwater remediation. Moretown Landfill Inc. wants to cap its recently closed cell in a way that will allow for expanded operations. But first, MLI and its parent company, Florida-based Advanced Disposal, will have to address groundwater concerns at the central Vermont site. A revised proposal to that effect was filed this month, but review could take weeks or even months. The landfill, in close proximity to the Winooski River off US 2, stopped accepting new trash in July 2013 when it lost state certification. Activity now is limited to odor control and water monitoring. Cell 3 is capped with an intermediate cover to keep smells in and rain out, while the landfill’s parent company responds to civil litigation and state environmental requests.
Regardless of expanded operations, MLI is required to address groundwater contamination at the site. The action plan is part of an agreement reached between MLI and the Agency of Natural Resources in the state’s environmental court in September 2013.
It’s also a key step in MLI’s reach for the “brass ring” of opening up a new cell to accept trash, according to attorney Chris Roy of Downs Rachlin Martin, who represents MLI in a related case.
“If ANR is not satisfied on the groundwater plan, we can pretty much bank on the fact that they wouldn’t certify (the expansion),” Roy said.
Ben Gauthier a staffer with the state’s solid waste management program has said that new landfill construction would exacerbate the groundwater problems unless they are properly addressed in advance. Gauthier is now reviewing a revised corrective action plan, having deemed MLI’s initial proposal inadequate.
But the level of standards to which the groundwater should be protected may be in question.
Attorney James Dumont represents two of the landfill’s neighbors concerned about the groundwater issue. Dumont said Lisa Ransom and Scott Baughman have stopped using their water well because of elevated manganese levels. Excessive levels of manganese in drinking water has been linked to neurological disorders in children, according to some studies.
Dumont’s clients appealed a move by MLI to have associated groundwater downgraded from Class 3 (drinkable) to Class 4 (non-drinkable) water. Based on email correspondence involving an engineer working with MLI, Dumont suspects the company wanted the downgrade because they thought the bar would be lower for protecting Class 4 groundwater.
He plans to ask the court to clarify that Class 3 and Class 4 groundwaters are equally protected.
Gauthier said the purpose of the Class 4 designation is to prompt the development of a plan to return water quality to Class 3.
“It’s just a way for them to correctly identify the state of the groundwater and start that action component rolling,” Gauthier said. “It says, ‘We realize there’s an issue. We want to get it rectified and work to get it back (to Class 3).”
Roy agreed in theory with the goal of improved water quality, but steered the goal away from specific classifications. He would not say that MLI’s goal is to return the groundwater to drinking water standards.
“That’s part of the dialogue that’s going on now as far as what the expectation is,” Roy said. “The engineers are working on what the goals should be as far as minerals in the water, what can be done to bring it down. Where that ends up will dictate where it ends up in terms of classification.”
He said MLI is comfortable holding onto the Class 4 designation it had sought. That said, he added, “Ultimately, Advanced Disposal is going to do whatever it is that ANR decides needs to be done.”
Roy pointed out that some of the site’s problems stem from an antiquated, unlined landfill now buried under heaps of piled trash in Cell 3. It’s hard to distinguish between that legacy contamination, naturally occurring substances from rock formations and byproducts of more recent operations, he said.
MLI has filed an application with the Agency of Natural Resources to expand operations, and Roy said he hopes to submit a parallel Act 250 application this summer. With more progress on the groundwater remediation plan, he said, MLI also will seek Act 250 approval for capping Cell 3.
Rather than permanently cap the cell, as originally proposed, the company wants to permanently cap half of it. That will entail a layer of sand over the trash, a geomembrane liner on top of that, more sand and finally topsoil and grass.
The other half of Cell 3 slopes away from Interstate 89 and toward a hill, creating a sort of valley not visible from the road. The proposed Cell 4 would essentially fill that valley, building up the back side of Cell 3. Because of their intention to overlay the new landfill section on top of the closed cell, the company wants to install only a temporary cover on that part of the slope.
“Unfortunately, Act 250 is requiring a new permit application in order to grant this capping approval instead of allowing the landfill to move forward with this process,” company spokesperson Mary O’Brien said by email.
In the consent order that followed the decertification of Cell 3, MLI and ANR agreed to this plan, pending regulatory approvals.
The company maintains that capping approval had been granted in its original permit. The Natural Resources Board — which is not part of ANR and was not party to the consent order — maintained a district-level environmental commission opinion that MLI’s proposed changes require new Act 250 approval.