There’s a new concern being voiced about the proposed Casella Waste Systems landfill beside Forest Lake Park in Dalton — big trucks passing by Whitefield and Bethlehem elementary schools and posing a traffic safety issue.
WES is along Route 3 on the northbound route that Casella’s MBI trucks (Mr. Bult’s Inc., a contracted waste hauler) will take before they hang a left on Route 116 in Whitefield, at an intersection downhill from the school, to the destination in Dalton.
The concerns about road safety and school safety have now been referred to state education officials, including the New Hampshire Department of Education commissioner, and the issue will be discussed Monday by members of the SAU 36 White Mountains Regional School Board at their scheduled meeting.
On Monday, WMRSB Chairman Greg Odell wrote Carl Ladd, executive director for the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, about his concerns, stating that right now they are his own, but the topic will go to a discussion among all board members.
“The preferred trucking route is directly past the Whitefield Elementary School,” said Odell. “It is expected that 100 or more waste haulers (many large tractor-trailer types) will pass the school going round trip, so, potentially, 200 or more trips past the school daily. Apparently over the years locals in Whitefield have asked NHDOT [the New Hampshire Department of Transportation] for a sidewalk so the school children could walk to school … As I understand it, DOT has determined it is not a safe enough section of road for that to happen, and now there is a proposal for what seems more like interstate-level tractor-trailer traffic on the very section of road.”
Route 3 from Carroll to Whitefield is used for busing children to school and Route 116 from Littleton to Whitefield is used during the day for White Mountains Regional High School career and technical education students to travel between WMRHS and Littleton High School, said Odell.
“I think this is a major safety concern for our students, their families, staff and all others that visit our school district,” he said.
“The other portion of the preferred trucking route has trucks coming in from I-91, traveling 93 south to exit 40 past the Bethlehem Elementary School then on to Route 3,” said Odell. “There is also a strong possibility that trucks will also pass by the Littleton Elementary School which is on Union St (Route 116). So we have potential impacts on SAUs 36, 35 and 84 and it seems there has been no conversation about this and no one is looking out for our North Country school children, families and staff.”
Writing on Thursday to the SAU 36 school board, SAU 36 Superintendent Marion Anastasia, and NHDOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut was Bonnie Boswell, of Whitefield, whose family has owned a home on Forest Lake for six decades.
She included for the board a letter she wrote to all 424 members of the New Hampshire Legislature in support of House Bill 177, which seeks to prohibit any new or expanding landfill within two miles of a state park by a creating a two-mile buffer around the parks.
“Like most people, I am aware that we need landfills,” wrote Boswell. “That is not the issue. For me, the issue is placement. To damage the lakes, rivers, wetlands and forest areas in our state that we have set aside for our families and tourists is very offensive to me. Certainly, we can come up with a better plan.”
In addition to concern for the land, she said she is also deeply concerned for the safety of North Country citizens from “the massive increase of traffic this landfill would cause on Routes 3 and 116.”
“Many people who live in towns north of Whitefield work daily in Littleton,” said Boswell. “They drive to work on Route 116. The thought of as many as 300 tractor-trailer trucks filled with out-of-state trash traveling down Route 3 and trying to turn the corner in downtown Whitefield to access Route 116 is as frightening as it is dangerous.”
She said, “As citizens, I know you know that not only would this be dangerous in terms of traffic, but also local folks, children, walking to the dairy bar and the Jiffy Mart. When I think about tourists trying to come into town to go to the Weathervane, the Mountain View Grand or stop at those businesses it is not a pretty picture. Short and sweet, it would be another nail in the coffin for this little town.”
According to the minutes of a Jan. 29, 2020 meeting between the DOT and Casella representatives, Casella engineer John Gay confirmed that daily truck traffic would consist of an estimated 100 67-foot-long WB-67 tractor-trailer trucks per day, excluding local contractor trucks, smaller vehicles and passenger.
At that meeting, DOT District 1 officials, based in Lancaster, expressed concerns about increased truck traffic along Route 116, a stretch of road between Littleton and Whitfield that has had recent fatal accidents, and concerns about the hill on Route 116 in Whitefield leaving Route 3.
Although Gay specifically estimated in the January 2020 DOT meeting minutes that there would be 100 67-foot-long trucks per day, Casella representatives, in a response on Friday, said, “Those who may be concerned by seeing 100 trucks per day from the January 2020 filing are likely assuming the false narrative created that those 100 trucks will be long haul transfer tractor-trailers. This is not the case. Those 100 trucks include local small haulers, local residents making personal trips, and anyone else coming across the scales at the landfill. Given the number of trucks traveling this route currently, our permit application does not represent what any reasonable person might consider a significant increase.”
In Casella’s own traffic study, submitted to DOT in September 2020, the company states, “The proposed landfill operation is expected to average about 102 truck trips per day (20% above the Bethlehem fill rates), of which 50 trucks would be larger vehicles such as 18 wheeler semi-tractor trailers (FHWA WB-67 type).”
Casella representatives were asked Friday if or how they will be responding to those school officials and residents concerned about truck traffic, if anyone from the company will be meeting with residents and local officials to address concerns, and how Casella will be addressing DOT concerns about added traffic and safety if the landfill is ultimately approved.
“Through the normal course of permitting a facility such as the Granite State Landfill we are required to file, discuss, and re-file a large number of permit applications,” said Casella spokesman Jeff Weld. “Any concerns brought up in initial meetings with regulatory agencies are required to be addressed in subsequent filings and is normal course of business. Safety is our top priority regardless of the route taken, and transportation is one of the most highly regulated parts of the industry. Whether it is a school or private residence makes no difference to a driver, safety is always at the top of their list. It’s unfortunate that those who are in opposition of this project continue to use fear tactics like invoking schools to stir emotional responses.”
Casella representatives have requested several times that the selectboard in Dalton engage with them on the host community agreement proposal, which includes more than $71 million in direct financial and other benefits to the town, said Weld.
“This is the most appropriate way for citizens who may have concerns to engage in the state permitting process and unfortunately the selectboard has chosen not to engage to this point,” he said.
After consulting with town counsel, Dalton selectmen said they declined to engage with Casella on the host community agreement proposal because the proposed landfill has not yet been approved and its fate is uncertain and any engagement would cost the town in legal fees.