BELMONT — Residents of Tilton and Northfield joined their Belmont neighbors last week to voice their displeasure about adding solid waste transfers to services already provided at the Bestway/Casella Waste Systems facility on Rte. 140.
Of the nearly 60 people who jammed into the Corner Meeting House for a hearing hosted by the N.H. Department of Environmental Science, almost all of them were concerned about the potential for contaminating the large fresh-water aquifer that lies beneath the site.
As it stands right now, the Casella facility accepts only construction debris and recyclables at the site. That material is packed together and brought to Massachusetts for sorting and final disposal.
The new proposal, which has tacit approval from the Belmont Planning Board should all of the conditions of the DES be met, would allow household waste to be brought there by haulers, loaded into trucks and taken to one of Casella's facilities in Berlin or Allenstown.
The Rte. 140 facility would still process recyclables and construction debris, however its overall capacity would increase from a daily maximum of 153 tons to a daily maximum of 500 tons. Casella estimates they will initially handle between 300 and 350 tons of material daily.
A long-time opponent of a solid waste facility on Rte. 140, George Condodemetraky, said he would like to see Casella take out a performance bond that could, should there be a problem, provide some compensation to residents of the three communities that depend almost exclusively on the aquifer for their water.
"If the aquifer gets polluted, who will build us a new one?" he asked, to which hearing officer Michael Guilroy replied that the DES was not there to answer hypothetical questions.
Casella said that there is a performance bond already in place but it is only for closing the facility — not for any potential damage to groundwater around.
Condodemetraky also noted that despite the regulations regarding disposal of hazardous household waste like lithium batteries and fluorescent lighting, homeowners still put them in the trash and contaminated leachate can get into the aquifer.
Condodemetraky said that he wanted people to know that there is nothing wrong with Casella as a company and that they do as good of a job as any similar company. His concerns are with the location of the facility.
He also noted that nearly 800,000 gallons of a day is pumped from the aquifer for use by the three communities it supports.
Roger Mattie of Belmont questioned the DES's role and wanted the agency to ask Casella for test wells. He also told DES representatives that the discussion was about local drinking water and he felt the Planning Board should have better regulated it.
Guilroy didn't want to hear it. He said a DES hearing can't be turned into a forum about what the town of Belmont should or shouldn't do.
Mattie then asked what was the purpose of the DES hearing other that to be a "rubber stamp" for the Belmont Planning Board.
Some of the more impassioned statements came from residents of Tilton and Northfield. At least two Tilton selectmen were in attendance as were members of the Tilton-Northfield Water District — including it's chair, Scott Davis.
Davis told Guilroy that the Rte. 140 aquifer was the sole source of water for all of Tilton and Northfield and the only source of water for four schools and the New Hampshire Veteran's Home.
"If we were to lose our water, what will the state do?" he asked.
Davis said the water district "owns and operates" a public water supply that includes two high-volume gravel-pack wells that are operating within 3,000-feet of the Casella site.
In a printout he distributed to the DES representatives and the media, he said those two wells supply water for Tilton and Northfield and that a wellhead protection area was established for the area in question in the mid-1990s.
Davis pointed out that under state law the protection area is classified as a GA2 — or a "potentially valuable, stratified drift aquifer".
He said the water district believes the area should be reclassified as a GAA — or a "delineated wellhead protection area."
Davis requested an immediate reclassification by the DES so that Casella's proposed use as a solid waste transfer facility can be evaluated under more stringent guidelines.
Others had questions about traffic, to which Casella said there should be no noticeable difference because the same number of trucks will be entering and exiting Rte. 140.
Many spoke about storm water runoff and how Casella would handle "hot loads", or loads of refuse that come to them that are smoking or on fire.
A Casella representative said the vast majority of the "hot loads" come from improperly disposed pool chemicals. He said the chemicals are isolated and a contractor who deals in those chemicals is called.
Casella representatives said there has been two fires that required fire department intervention in the past few years and one didn't involve a load of trash — a truck caught fire. In the one fire where a load was on fire, the contents were removed from the truck and the blaze was extinguished by the Fire Department.
Residents said this is exactly the scenario they fear the most — a fire that leads to water runoff.
The next step is for the DES to evaluate the public input as it relates to its own regulations and either issue the permit or deny it.
At press time, the turnaround period for the DES decision is unknown.
(Disclosure: The author of this article has a financial interest in Casella Waste Systems.)
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