Bethlehem Board Mulls Transfer Station Backup In Event NCES Closes Early

This town-owned parcel off of Route 116 in Bethlehem, currently being used as a shooting range for Bethlehem police officers, is being considered for Bethlehem's municipal transfer station after 2026, when the NCES transfer station is projected to close. On Monday, selectmen considered the possibility that NCES could close earlier if the state pulls its operating permit. (Photo by Robert Blechl)

As solid waste remains in the spotlight in the North Country, one town is considering a transfer station backup plan in the event that the North Country Environmental Services landfill along Trudeau Road in Bethlehem gets its permit pulled.

On May 11, the New Hampshire Waste Management Council ruled that the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services acted unlawfully when it approved the current Stage VI expansion permit for the Casella Waste Systems-owned NCES when that expansion would be operating for most of its life during a period of landfill capacity excess in the state and therefore did not meet the “substantial public benefit requirement” under law.

The appeal of the Stage VI expansion permit was brought by the Conservation Law Foundation, which argued the expansion relied on an outdated state solid waste management plan and lacked the public benefit.

The council rejected most of CLF’s arguments, but agreed there was no substantial public benefit because there won’t be a capacity shortfall until after 2025, just a year before the Stage VI capacity is reached, in 2026

On May 31, DES filed a motion asking the council to reconsider its decision.

During their meeting on Monday, the Bethlehem Select Board brought up the council’s decision and what it could mean for the town of Bethlehem if NCES stops operating for whatever reason.

Selectman Chris Jensen said the public benefit component is a key part to the NCES operating permit.

“The Waste Management Council’s argument was for the first five of the six years there was not a need for the additional capacity provided at Trudeau Road and that capacity was only needed in the sixth year and therefore there was no proven public benefit,” he said. “It’s not really clear how it’s all going to work out.”

The town, which has an agreement with NCES for the use of the NCES transfer station, has been working to implement its own transfer station to prepare for the 2026 NCES closure.

The worst-case scenario is that the state pulls the NCES operating permit before then, though the transfer station committee doesn’t think that’s likely to happen, said Jensen.

“But the transfer station committee thought it would be good if the Select Board took a couple of different actions just to get things going on the slim chance we have to do something,” he said.

One action is to send a copy of the council’s order to town legal counsel for an opinion, said Jensen.

Another is to check with Littleton, which has the only regional transfer station in the area, to see if Bethlehem could use the Littleton station if it suddenly finds itself in need of an interim station while Bethlehem gets its own emergency transfer station operating, which probably wouldn’t take too long, said Jensen.

Another is to contact the municipally-owned Mt. Carberry landfill near Berlin.

“We had contacted them probably two years ago, gone over and done a visit, and they came back and said, ‘yeah, we’re happy to take your trash,’” said Jensen. “The transfer station committee thought it would be a good idea if we check again with them. The question is whether or not we want to do all of those things. It would be helpful to have more information on the slim chance things go wrong.”

Board members agreed with exploring those options, though Select Board member Veronica Morris said there is no great benefit in going to town legal counsel now because no one yet knows what the state or NCES is going to do.

She spoke of a recent email about local towns exploring a regional collaboration on solid waste and said the current time would be a good opportunity to begin those conversations.

Regionalization would help out those Bethlehem residents who live closer to Twin Mountain and are closer to that town’s transfer station than they would be to the Bethlehem station that is being considered for a parcel off of Route 116 near Whitefield.

It would also help those Whitefield and Dalton residents who are closer to Bethlehem and could use a Bethlehem station along Route 116, she said.

“If we collaborate, this could be awesome,” said Morris.

Bethlehem Select Board Chairman Bruce Caplain said a short-term solution is finding an option if NCES pulls out soon while the long-term solution is looking at regional collaboration.

For an interim solution, the Bethlehem Highway Department is permitted as an emergency transfer station.

Bethlehem Transfer Station Committee Chairman Barry Zitser said the Select Board could inquire as to how much it would cost for a third-party contractor to make pickups at the town garage.

Under the 2012 settlement agreement with the town, NCES is required to pick up Bethlehem residential and commercial trash as long as Trudeau Road has capacity.

If NCES on Trudeau Road is shut down, it’s currently undetermined if that voids the agreement or if Casella is obligated to transport Bethlehem refuse to another one of its facilities, said Jensen.

The agreements are based on Bethlehem’s host community agreement with NCES, and if Bethlehem is no longer a host community, it could be problematic, said Morris.

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