Agreement reached on Coventry landfill expansion

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(Host) A plan to expand Vermont’s largest landfill has won state Act 250 approval. A Canadian group concerned about the expansion says it’s happy with the outcome. The approval also paves the way for construction of a facility to generate electricity from gases produced by the landfill.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Under the permit granted by the District 7 Environmental Board, Casella Waste Systems will be able to double the size of its landfill in Coventry. That will allow Casella to truck up to 370,000 tons of trash to the site.

The Coventry facility is one of only two still-operating landfills in the state. A Canadian organization called MRC Memphremagog had expressed concern that the expansion might threaten water quality in nearby Lake Memphremagog. An estimated 150,000 Canadians get their drinking water from the lake. It’s the first time a Canadian party has been granted full status in an Act 250 hearing. The group will have a say in the way the landfill is run.

The terms of the permit call for the creation of a Quebec-Vermont Landfill Oversight Committee. The independent group will monitor the impact of the Casella facility. Roger Nicolet of MRC Memphremagog says his group is pleased with the process and the outcome.

(Nicolet) “We are grateful to the commission to have made an effort to listen to an across the border presentations and they have gone out of their way to be good neighbors and we are indeed quite pleased with the attitude they have adopted.”

(Zind) Nicolet says his group still has concerns that the landfill could harm water quality. But he feels the provisions of the permit allow enough oversight to catch problems quickly. The permit also requires the establishment of a fund to maintain the landfill decades after it closes.

The Washington Electric Cooperative has plans to build a plant at the landfill to convert methane gas to electricity. Those plans had been on hold pending the approval of the expansion. Eventually the plant could provide up to 50 percent of the utility’s power needs.

Avram Patt is general manager of Washington Electric. Patt says the methane plant will be a critical source of power for the company and should help stabilize rates for co-op members.

(Patt) “This is a significant piece of power at significantly below what our costs would be otherwise. What we think this is essentially doing is avoiding a rate increase. We haven’t had a rate increase for five years and at this point it looks like it will be at least a few more. I think that’s pretty good.”

(Zind) Patt says because of the rural nature of the utility, Washington Electric rates are among the highest in the state. The Public Service Board had refused to allow the co-op to begin major construction of the methane conversion plant until the landfill expansion was approved.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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