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May 20—CONCORD — The state's need for future trash disposal space took priority over efforts to block a new North Country landfill Thursday in the state Senate.
For three years, opponents of the proposed Granite State Landfill near Forest Lake State Park in Dalton have pursued legislation to prevent it. This latest bill (HB 177) would have outlawed building any landfill within 2 miles of a state park.
The measure easily cleared the House of Representatives, but Senate leaders from both political parties were against it, citing the need to expand landfills in the future.
"This bill would have significant repercussion on landowner rights and seeks to use a state legislative procedure to deal with what is basically a local zoning issue," said state Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, said 11 states have adopted similar buffer zones between landfills and state parks. She warned allowing this landfill permit to go ahead could hurt the state's tourism image.
"Our visitors come to New Hampshire for our great beauty, and siting a landfill next to our state park does not preserve that beauty," Hennessey said.
The Senate killed the measure, 14-8. Republicans opposed the bill, 11-3, while Senate Democrats favored it, 6-3.
Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford, said activists convinced her that the bill was the right approach.
"I think we need to listen to our people, and a 100-foot buffer is not appropriate," Ricciardi said.
The three Democrats voting against the bill were Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy and Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, both from Manchester, and Deputy Democratic Leader Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua.
Last spring, Littleton voters supported a nonbinding warrant article opposing the landfill by nearly a 3-to-1 margin.
Capacity running out
Dalton has adopted zoning that would prohibit the project, though executives with the landfill developer, Casella Waste Systems, said they were confident the firm will receive a permit.
Last month, the House voted to pass the ban by a vote of 197-159. Democrats backed it, 163-3, and Republicans opposed the bill, 156-34.
Avard noted the state only has three commercial landfills and that the permits period was ending soon for the landfills in Berlin (2025) and Bethlehem (2026). The third is in Rochester.
Casella executives said state Department of Environmental Services reports conclude that if new landfills aren't built, the state will be 9 to 23 million tons short of capacity.
Without additional landfill space, the state's southern tier will max out in 2034, and the northern part of the state will run out of landfill space in 2041, the state's solid waste plan concludes.
"Passing this bill could have a devastating ripple effect on municipalities' and their solid waste costs," Avard said.
State officials are supporting the construction of a new plant in the southern tier for the state to dispose of its own recyclables; presently they are all transported for disposal in Massachusetts at high cost, he said.
Getting a landfill permit in the state takes three to five years, Avard said.
Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, supported the bill, but agreed that it was likely this fight over the landfill in Dalton will be settled in court.
"We all recognize that there is a crisis in solid waste management in this state," Watters said.