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State Approves Small Expansion At Bethlehem Landfill Facing Pollution Suit

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Casella
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The state has approved an expansion for the North Country’s largest private landfill, allowing the Bethlehem facility’s owner to add six acres or about 1.2 million cubic yards in capacity.

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The small expansion comes after a much larger version was rejected by Bethlehem voters, who opposed it in part because the landfill has allegedly polluted the Ammonoosuc River, prompting a federal lawsuit from the Conservation Law Foundation.

The landfill's owner, Casella, says it’s going to run out of space within the next several years for trash from New Hampshire and other New England states. The Vermont-based company is also proposing a brand-new landfill near Bethlehem, in the town of Dalton.

Opponents of that plan blasted the state Department of Environmental Services’ approval of the Bethlehem expansion. Jon Swan, a lead anti-landfill organizer in Dalton, called it “utterly, bitterly disappointing” and urged officials in Bethlehem to challenge it.

Shaina Kasper, the New Hampshire director of the environmental nonprofit Community Action Works, said in a statement: “A larger landfill means bigger consequences. North Country residents shouldn’t have to bear the burden of the whole region’s trash.” 

In public comments on the Bethlehem expansion, residents argued that regulators should do more to prioritize reuse, recycling and reduction of trash at its source, instead of extending reliance on landfills, which contribute to climate change.

In its response to those comments, DES said they share residents’ concerns and are actively working to pursue that shift, outlined in the state’s solid waste hierarchy.

“However, as a practical matter, the desired pivot will take time to accomplish,” DES writes, “and some commenters made the point that NH communities and other NH waste generators that currently depend on the NCES [Casella Bethlehem] landfill need time to plan for its closure and redirect their solid waste management practices.”

In the long-term, the agency says they say they plan to pursue other reforms that would help the state rely less on landfills and create less waste overall.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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