Small Road Poses Big Question —Bethlehem Selectmen To See If Landfill Access Violates Settlement Agreement

A state inspection in August 2019 revealed exposed waste at the Casella Waste Systems landfill in Bethlehem. Here, the working face in the southern portion of the facility's Stage IV, Phase II, looking west and prior to the face being uncovered from its temporary tarp. (Photo courtesy of N.H. Department of Environmental Services)

It’s a small road that has become the focus of a big question.

As Casella Waste Systems/North Country Environmental Services advances its plan for a new landfill in Dalton, selectmen in Bethlehem are now looking into whether the use of that road, a segment of which is in Bethlehem and would be used as an access for the proposed landfill, violates NCES’s 2011 settlement agreement with the residents of Bethlehem that limits landfills to Bethlehem’s zoned District 5, on the other side of town.

During their meeting on Sept. 14, selectmen agreed to give the question to the town attorney for a legal opinion and said what Casella is proposing could also constitute a change in use for the road, one that could have to undergo a town review.

“This has been brought up because the road, Douglas Drive, is in Bethlehem and would access the proposed Dalton landfill and there has been concern that because the road would be used to access the landfill it would be in violation of the 2011 agreement, which states that NCES shall not expand landfill development or operate another landfill with capacity within the town’s boundaries and outside of District 5,” said Bethlehem Board of Selectmen Chairman Gabe Boisseau.

He said, “The wording of the 2011 agreement states that NCES shall not expand the landfill or expand land-filling activities in the town of Bethlehem. It has been brought up that this access to Douglas Drive could be in violation of this agreement and also in violation of the 2018 memorandum of understanding negotiated more recently.”

In the settlement agreement, Article 5 states that “NCES shall not expand the landfill or develop or operate any other landfill capacity within the town’s boundaries and outside of District 5” and “shall not acquire any real property within the town’s boundaries for the purpose of developing or operating a landfill on such property.”

District 5 encompasses the NCES landfill along Trudeau Road.

The access road to go into Dalton, which is off of Route 116 and currently owned by Douglas Ingerson Jr., is in Bethlehem’s District 3.

The settlement agreement also states that “NCES shall not seek to acquire any federal, state or local permits to develop or operate a landfill within the town’s boundaries outside of District 5.”

For its proposed landfill in Dalton, Casella has submitted to the state an application for a wetlands permit that includes wetlands activities in Bethlehem.

“I would encourage you to have the attorney look at the entire zoning ordinance, not just the agreement, because Article 3 refers to land-filling,” suggested Andrea Bryant, who chairs the Bethlehem Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Article 3 in the Bethlehem zoning ordinance, regarding solid waste facilities and landfills, states “no solid waste disposal facility, site or expansion of any existing solid waste facility or landfills shall be located in any district except District 5 except a facility operated by the town for the purpose of providing a solid waste disposal facility for solid waste generated in the town.”

The town needs to get a legal opinion to determine if the use of Douglas Drive to access a landfill in Dalton would violate the 2011 settlement agreement before there can be further discussion on the issue, said Boisseau.

Selectman Linda Moore said she spoke with the New Hampshire Municipal Association last year about the issue of Douglas Drive, but now Casella has submitted the wetlands application for a permit to do work on two lots on both sides of Douglas Drive that are in Bethlehem, and that raises further uncertainty as to if it’s allowable under the settlement agreement.

“I don’t know where that falls legally and I think we definitely need to talk with our attorney,” she said.

Selectman Chris Jensen said a change in use for the road, if applicable, could also mean a site plan review is required.

“I think we need to get a good solid opinion on it before we do anything else,” he said. “I think it’s a smart and responsible thing to do.”

Boisseau said the board is doing its due diligence in seeking the legal opinion.

“Once we hear back, that will give us more direction on where to go,” he said.

Dalton resident Jon Swan, a strident opponent of a landfill in Dalton and an expanded one in Bethlehem, said to selectmen, “Thank you very much for the courage to take this under consideration.”


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