UPDATE: Casella landfill expansion shot down by Southbridge, MA voters

UPDATE: More than 60% of residents who turned out for the local election in Southbridge, MA on June 13 voted against a ballot question written to support Casella's landfill expansion plans, as reported by the Telegram & Gazette.

This decision is a setback for Casella, which spent tens of thousands of dollars on a "Southbridge First" campaign that promoted the economic benefits it provides to the community. According to the company, closing the landfill could result in up to $4.1 million in lost revenue and economic activity for the town. Opponents of the site question those figures and have said that the costs of potential environmental damage are higher.

Casella has previously indicated it would be open to closing the site, and the landfill's general manager was quoted as saying the company would "go away quietly" in a February Telegram & Gazette story if that's what residents wanted. Next steps aren't immediately clear as the ballot question was technically non-binding. 

Dive Brief:

  • Residents of Southbridge, MA will have the option to vote on a non-binding resolution today about the future of a local landfill operated by Casella Waste Systems that has become a very contentious issue for the small town. Campaign finance records show that Casella plans to spend up to $100,000 in support of its position, as reported by the Telegram & Gazette.
  • The question, presented by Casella, asks residents whether they support instructing the town manager and town council to enter an agreement with the company for continued operation of the site. The question also includes language specifying permission to use certain parcels of land, which has been a secondary point of contention for landfill opponents.
  • Last week, Toxics Action Center and Environment Massachusetts also filed a lawsuit in federal court against Casella, its local subsidiary and the town itself. The suit alleges violations of both the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act over groundwater contamination. It calls for remediation of the contamination and civil penalties for 99 local residents, among other items, as reported by the Telegram & Gazette.

Dive Insight:

The groundwater contamination situation around the Southbridge landfill has been gaining attention over the past year following a series of state and local developments on the issue. As it stands, Casella has agreed to split the cost of a $10 million water line replacement with the state's Department of Environmental Protection, though denies responsibility for the contamination. The company is also still seeking approval for a vertical expansion that would add multiple years to the site's dwindling capacity.

Yet during last month's quarterly earnings call, CEO John Casella said closing the site could be "in the company's best interest" depending on how all of these factors shake out. Shortly after that, in an interview with Waste Dive, he expressed optimism for the June 13 vote and cited the financial benefits of host fees paid to the town. Southbridge receives an estimated $4 million per year from the company. 

Though that money comprises a notable portion of municipal revenue, local sentiment against the landfill is also strong and these situations are often unpredictable. Seneca Falls, NY has changed course on the fate of a local landfill operated by Waste Connections multiple times. Last year, residents in Milpitas, CA voted against using a landfill operated by Republic Services on a ballot question sponsored by the company itself.

Turnout for off-season local elections is often hard to predict. The fact that Southbridge residents will also be voting on marijuana regulations — a hot topic in Massachusetts at the moment — in addition to school committee and town council posts may help. While the results will not be binding, they are sure to become a main talking point in the months ahead for whichever side prevails.

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Filed Under: Corporate News Landfill Regulation
Top image credit: Casella Waste Systems