Waste Management forest landfill plan stalls — for now
- A Waste Management plan to expand the Fitchburg/Westminster Landfill — soon to be one of the last active sites in Massachusetts — recently stalled out at the end of the state's legislative session. The company and two municipalities were seeking authorization to acquire 85 acres of land from the Leominster State Forest in return for donating a separate 174 acres of land in its place.
- The landfill is currently expected to reach capacity by 2024, leaving all involved looking for ways to avoid out-of-state exporting. Waste Management's initial estimates envision using approximately 45 of the new acres for disposal, extending the site's lifespan until around 2034.
- The final version of this bill (H.4677) was reported to the House Ways and Means Committee on June 28, but stalled there before legislators adjourned at the end of July. Leominster State Rep. Natalie Higgins expressed her concerns in the session's remaining days. Multiple groups, including the state Department of Conservation and Recreation's Stewardship Council, Nature Conservancy and Conservation Law Foundation (plus nine co-signers), also wrote letters in opposition.
This plan appeared to catch some by surprise, though Waste Management said it was in the public domain for months.
No mention was made of an expansion when the state's Department of Environmental Protection approved a permitted capacity increase in early 2017, but the topic garnered at least one local news story last fall. Westminster voters approved a necessary zoning modification in November 2017 and the Fitchburg City Council granted similar approval soon after. Both receive an estimated $3 million in host fees per year and are said to have been early supporters of the idea.
The company and two municipalities were actively locking down land deals well into this year, which is why they say the initial state legislation didn't get introduced until late May. A hearing was held in mid-June.
The most recent version of this legislation was actually filed on the same day as a DEP Solid Waste Advisory Committee infrastructure panel in late June. This wasn't mentioned at any point during the wide-ranging discussion. DEP recently confirmed to Waste Dive it already knew about the proposal, but didn't feel the project was germane because nothing had been finalized.
With Casella's Southbridge site and another in Chicopee both set to close this year, and two more closures expected in 2019, many feel the clock is ticking. A smaller site in the town of Bourne is on track to get its own expansion approval, but that is far from enough to reverse the waste export trend.
Waste Management plans to continue making its case the state is "losing its ability to manage the waste material generated by residents and businesses each day" and needs this expansion as a "bridge" to allow time for "potential development of new, reliable, solid waste disposal technologies."
Environmental groups can be expected to raise concerns about groundwater quality around the existing site, the precedent of taking over conservation land and whether the capacity is actually needed when multiple WTE facilities are projected to remain open for years to come.
Regardless of any past transparency questions, this is now on the radar of local publications and environmental groups alike. It is one of the largest proposed landfill expansions in New England and, if eventually permitted by the DEP, would likely end up being one of the last remaining active landfills in Massachusetts. However, nothing can proceed until the land swap is approved and the state legislature returns to formal session in January.
- Massachusetts State Legislature H. 4677
- Sentinel & Enterprise Frustration over failed landfill land swap
- Telegram & Gazette Landfill expansion plan raises alarms for Leominster State Forest
- Leominster Champion Forest land swap bill dies with end of legislative session
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