- Casella Waste Systems has collected enough signatures to put a non-binding ballot question before voters in Southbridge, MA about the potential expansion of a controversial local landfill. The Southbridge Town Council rejected this petition, but it was approved through another method by the town clerk. The vote will occur on June 13, as reported by the Telegram & Gazette.
- Some council members opposed the ballot question because it contains multiple questions and is seen as too complex. Residents will be asked to vote on whether the town manager should negotiate and execute an agreement with the Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park, operated by Casella, for ongoing solid waste management activities. Ratification by the council would also be required. The question specifies that this would be at sites approved by relevant government agencies.
- Casella is proposing a vertical expansion of the 52-acre site that could eventually add an estimated 19 acres to its footprint. The land in question, which could include a portion of the municipal airport, is a key point of contention and a recent report from the state's Department of Environmental Protection was not favorable toward the plan. The site could reach capacity as early as next year without this expansion.
Local opposition to Casella's proposed expansion has been going on for multiple years, with additional involvement from two other neighboring municipalities, the DEP and environmental groups. Casella's potential responsibility for contamination in wells that provide water to local residents has been one of the biggest issues and has led to conflicting reports. While the company has long maintained it wasn't responsible, it recently agreed in principle to match $5 million in DEP funding to construct a new water line in the affected neighborhood.
Throughout all of this, Casella has been working to emphasize the financial benefits that it provides to the area and the need for new landfill capacity in a state with decreasing options. Last year, the company set up a website touting the more than $4 million in direct benefits it provided to Southbridge in 2015 and continues to make its case. As recently seen with the company's successful expansion of a landfill in New York this type of community engagement can be effective and other beleaguered sites have been trying the same thing.
As Republic Services experienced with its own sponsored ballot question in California last fall, gathering signatures may not be enough to reverse course on public opinion. Though Waste Management recently found success with public campaigning efforts for a new collection contract in Florida. Even if Casella gets the result it's hoping for in June state or local officials could still oppose their expansion efforts, but a strong showing of support from residents might help their cause.