State's last unlined landfill to stop taking trash Sept. 1

“We’ve been working on closure for the past three years. The first two years was basically, ‘How do we convince people that we need to close it?” — Pedie O’Brien

SALISBURY — The Salisbury landfill will stop accepting trash on Sept. 1, thus ending its more than 30-year run and its status as the state’s last operating unlined landfill.

And while closure plans are going smoothly, Salisbury still needs to find a hauler to run a mini transfer station at the landfill. Residents will then be able to bring their trash and recyclables to the there for transport to the Addison County Solid Waste Management facility in Middlebury.

“All of the haulers in Addison County are so busy,” Selectwoman Pedie O’Brien said. “I think a lot of it is that so many people are now going with curbside pickup.”

This past Town Meeting Day that Salisbury residents voted, 149-30, to close the “town dump” off Upper Plains Road and instead send get their rubbish and recycling services through the ACSWMD, which runs a transfer station in Middlebury and ultimately sends the county’s trash to a lined landfill in Coventry.

O’Brien stressed that while the Salisbury landfill property will no longer accept garbage, it will continue to offer other amenities, such as a drop-off site for scrap metal, electronics and yard waste. It will also maintain a shed at which folks can leave or take good-quality, reusable items.

For years, the landfill served as a convenient place for Salisbury residents to drop off their trash and recyclables, get the latest gossip, collect signatures for petitions, and renew acquaintances. In its heyday during the early 1990s, the landfill took in enough trash from various sources to help bankroll a new local elementary school.

But its day of reckoning has finally come, just like all the other unlined municipal landfills that one dotted the state. O’Brien explained a combination of more stringent environmental regulations, economic factors and capacity limitations will lead to the landfill’s demise in around two weeks.

“We’ve been working on closure for the past three years,” O’Brien said. “The first two years was basically, ‘How do we convince people that we need to close it?”

The selectboard held two large public meetings — last August and this past February — at which they made the pitch to close the dump and join the ACSWMD. Officials listened to citizens’ concerns and answered questions about what the dump closure might mean. Folks from Bristol — which closed its unlined landfill several years ago — shared their experiences with the closure process and its aftermath.

Officials presented residents with a litany of environmental and financial reasons to put the trash receiving portion of the landfill out of commission. Among the reasons is that the facility has lost a lot of money during the previous three and a half years.

How bad were the losses? O’Brien said the landfill ran deficits of $42,749 during fiscal year 2016; $9,160 in fiscal year 2017 — a loss blunted by a revenue surge derived from debris from the burned Swamp Road Bridge; and $45,468 in fiscal year 2018. The landfill lost almost $31,000 during the first half of fiscal year 2019 alone, according to O’Brien.

Those losses were tied to a decline in trash coming into the landfill, a “free” local recycling program that was costing the town a lot of money, and a garbage disposal fee for users that hasn’t kept pace with the times.

“We wanted to keep our prices as low as possible, because people had been used to paying $2.50 per bag of trash for years and years,” O’Brien said. “But we realized that wasn’t working.”

So the selectboard began ratcheting up the per-bag fee in an effort to balance the landfill’s ledger. The rate jumped to $3.50 per bag and then to the current $4.50 — a fee that O’Brien said still wasn’t covering expenses.

The town hadn’t charged its residents for recycling services, the costs of which increased last year from $50 per ton to around $92 per ton, according to O’Brien. Salisbury took in 86 tons of recyclables last year.

Salisbury residents had also enjoyed free household hazardous waste collection days. The town offered three such events last year at a combined cost of $18,250.

MORE CURBSIDE PICKUP

State environmental authorities long ago capped the Salisbury’s landfill’s annual intake of trash to 1,000 tons, as one of the conditions for it to remain open.

“This past year, we only took in 215 tons total, because a lot of the new residents and younger people didn’t have time to go to the landfill,” O’Brien said. “They were having curbside pickup.”

Camp Keewaydin and Maple Meadows, two of the community’s largest businesses, have already contracted with haulers to take their refuse. That’s cut into landfill revenues.

O’Brien noted the amount of trash collected curbside in Salisbury (and ended up at the ACSWMD transfer station) was more than double the amount dumped at the local landfill.

Fortunately, Salisbury has been able to cover its solid waste/recycling deficits through its landfill closure fund. That fund remains solvent enough to pay closure costs and the requisite 30-year monitoring of the property, O’Brien noted.

She credited Casella Waste Management and Omya Inc. for helping reduce the landfill’s operating costs, thus averting bigger deficits. Omya has for the past several years provided free landfill cover. Known as “Omya SPS,” it’s the byproduct of the marble ore processing that takes place at Omya’s plant in Florence. It’s made up of calcium carbonate and other materials. Casella has dropped off the tailings at the landfill.

“That has been a big help,” she said.

The Salisbury selectboard is scheduled on Aug. 13 to award the landfill closure contract to Casella Waste Management.

“I’m so happy,” O’Brien said. “I’ve been wanting to close the landfill for quite a few years.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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