We should consider ourselves warned.
The Moretown landfill has signaled a warning that if the privately owned facility does not get approval for another area, or cell, for dumping trash before it reaches capacity in February, the implications could be disastrous.
That is not just trash talk.
The company that manages the business has warned it must reduce intake by up to 80 percent starting Dec. 1 in order to avoid filling to capacity. A four-fifths reduction in trash could reshape the garbage business in Vermont.
Moretown is one of two landfills in the state that accepts municipal waste, and haulers transport waste to the site from as far away as Chittenden County and Brattleboro. Up to 60 percent of the waste coming into Moretown and Coventry, owned by Casella, is from municipalities
The Moretown landfill has three cells and needs a fourth, which would last about 15 to 18 years and be about the size of the previous three combined. The town is reviewing the request, but even with local approval, the state has warned the company’s operating permit might not be renewed unless certain odor complaints are resolved. Another option has the landfill asking the state to reopen Cell 2, which has settled over time, and allow it to be used again for several months, buying more time for a viable solution. The state is poised to take up that suggestion this week.
Without resolution, however, what happens next could affect every household and business in every town that sends trash to Moretown.
Trash is tricky business. Years ago, waste districts were formed, and incinerators were planned, so that communities could continue to have control over where there trash went, and allowing for certain cost controls. However, many of those districts never saw their mission through, and quickly saw the significant costs associated with contracts with municipalities, fleets of trucks and equipment, as well as maintenance of the facilities. Waste districts were well-intentioned, but with one notable exception in Chittenden County, the burden was too much.
Over time, private trash haulers have been able to claim territories across Vermont, streamlining routes, maximizing schedules, and building significant networks — many of which are dependent on Moretown and Coventry continuing service at current levels.
And while customers — towns and cities, and presumably other large users — have been put on notice, there are no promises, contractually or otherwise, that hauling as we know it will or can remain business as usual. Any change in Moretown’s intake could have costly implications for other communities and users, as well as longer drives and higher fees for private haulers.
In a tight economy, with fuel costs always hanging in limbo, that should have everyone more than a little nervous.
There is a lot in the balance locally, as well.
Certainly, any reduction will have an impact on the town of Moretown’s revenue stream, and officials there already are taking precautions by eyeing potential budget cuts, up to 25 percent in some departments, if necessary.
Last year, the town’s $1.1 million budget was helped with $532,762 through a host town agreement, which directs revenue from the landfill to the town.
According to an article in Sunday’s edition, as the landfill nears its permitted capacity, the town is already seeing signs of the change affecting the municipality. Taxes for the property will drop from $208,647 in 2011 to $87,090 for this year.
Perhaps what is most concerning, however, is timing.
The letter from the landfill to the town was sent Nov. 2. Presumably, the landfill, the town and the state — and even the big-time haulers — have known for months, maybe years, that this problem was coming. Yet everyone seems unexpectedly alarmed, and willing to push the issue right into the heat of the budget cycle and up to the landfill’s deadline. There has to be a plan.
The sense of urgency is real and profound for much of Vermont. The landfill dilemma needs to be hammered out with all parties’ interests represented. We need resolution before this situation start to really stink.