Beth Barnes: A mountain of trash grows at Vermont’s lone landfill


Measuring 124 feet and 11 stories high, Decker Towers in Burlington is the tallest building in the entire state of Vermont, according to Wikipedia.

Measuring 5 feet 4 inches tall, I am the tallest person in my household, but — full disclosure — my household consists of me and two cats!

The Eiffel Tower in Paris looms above this beautiful French city at 984 feet.

To put things in perspective and to give the reader a sense of scale, Mount Casella (aka: Vermont’s only landfill) currently measures just 10 feet shorter than this French icon. Move over Paris because if the 51-acre landfill expansion is allowed to proceed, Mount Casella is slated to reach over 1,050 feet tall. That would be a little over eight Decker Towers and over 200 of me! The pyramids at Giza just outside of Cairo, Egypt, measure 455 feet tall, so even two on top of each other would fall well short of our very own Mount Casella.

You may think I’m talking trash – I am. This is not a mountain made by nature, this is a mountain made from trash including demolition and construction waste is trucked into Coventry from all over Vermont and New England.

Trucks make over 100 trips per day emitting enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and they stress our country roads and disrupt idyllic Vermont life as we know it. The state of Vermont has approved a 51-acre expansion so that “we” can accept even more trash over the next 20 years, including more trips by these polluting trucks and more trash on our growing mountain.

This is a classic, time-tested case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind and again, the Northeast Kingdom is the ideal place to locate everything the rest of the state does not want.

We are cautioned never to put all of our eggs into one basket, so why do we continue to put all the state’s trash in one?

Expanding the only remaining landfill in Vermont for the next 20 years is not the answer. Approval of bigger landfills, business-as-usual, provides greater profits for shareholders and erases any incentive to find alternative solutions like recycling and reduction of the trash stream. When a few non-locals benefit financially while an already underserved Orleans County is left with trash, the social injustice leaves no room, or incentive, for collaboration.

We should be moving forward together to find answers that benefit everyone.

Mr. Casella, do we really need a bigger trash mountain in the beautiful and pristine Northeast Kingdom, let alone on the shores of an international lake that provides drinking water to over 185,000 Canadians? Our beautiful waters have also been a playground for generations of Northeast Kingdom families. Lake Memphremagog draws visitors from around the globe in all four seasons, but trouble looms with the threat of emerging contaminants like PFAS and PFOAs poisoning Vermont waterways.

The landfill may be located in Coventry but the toxic leachate, a persistent by-product of all landfills, active or not, is trucked to municipal wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into waterways leading to Lake Champlain too. Even though the treated water emerges “clear,” do not be fooled, Vermont. Municipal wastewater treatment facilities are designed for domestic organic sewage and are incapable of treating these emerging, toxic and “forever chemicals” that are being found in leachate, or garbage juice. We are told that emerging chemicals are being treated “out” of the leachate and the clear water after treatment is proof. Clear water is nothing more than deception because these emerging chemicals cannot be treated out at a wastewater treatment facility. Imagine pouring table salt into a glass of water — the water remains clear and the salt seems to disappear, but has it?

The smell of methane and trash is often prevalent and hard to stomach and hard to explain to Northeast Kingdom visitors, in fact impossible to explain to anyone, let alone live with. We need to cherish our lake, our air, our roads, our environment and all Vermonters.

Beth Barnes, of Newport, is a member of DUMP, Don’t Undermine Memphremagog’s Purity. She has been an environmental advocate for over 20 years. This piece first appeared on VTDigger.

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