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‘A disaster for Bethlehem:’ Town raises concerns about truck traffic from proposed landfill


Casella Waste Systems’ proposed landfill in Dalton has drawn criticism from residents and environmental groups over possible environmental and social impacts from a new dump. But some in the area have another worry: traffic.

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The town of Bethlehem is pushing back on the company’s proposal to route some trucks that would serve the landfill through their main street, saying the proposal compromises the safety of residents and the town’s tourist economy, among other concerns.

In a January letter to New Hampshire’s Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Services, the Bethlehem Select Board formally objected to Casella’s proposal, calling it a “disaster for Bethlehem.”

“The town has wide-ranging and deep concerns that we are certain will also be important to DES and DOT, including noise, air quality, safety, litter and damage to a fragile economy,” the Select Board’s letter said.

The letter urged DES and DOT to reject the landfill proposal. Those organizations have the final say on permits needed for the project to continue.

A study from Casella Waste Systems estimates the proposed landfill would bring an additional 102 vehicle trips per day to the region during higher traffic months in the summer. About half of those would be large vehicles, such as an 18-wheeler.

About 10 vehicles would run through the heart of Bethlehem, a town of about 2,500 people. That would make for a total of 20 round trips per day, according to Casella vice president Joe Fusco. He said the route through Bethlehem is not the primary route for trucks and is only used for traffic from places that don’t go near I-93.

“We do not want to run trucks through downtown, it's very inefficient. It's something we try to avoid,” Fusco said. “But in studying where the traffic would come from and the geography that this landfill would serve, some of those vehicles – again, a very small number – are going to go through Bethlehem.”

But Select Board chairman Bruce Caplain said the town already has enough traffic coming through Bethlehem – and with a school and lots of mountain bikers, more trucks in downtown Bethlehem would be a safety concern.

“It just adds danger and risk for people,” he said.

And Bethlehem resident Julie Seeley said she’s worried the number of trucks will increase, if the capacity for the proposed Dalton landfill increases over time, as capacity has increased for the landfill in Bethlehem.

“Having watched Bethlehem for decades now, those numbers grow and they grow and they grow,” she said.

Rek-Lis brewing company co-owner Ian Dowling is concerned those trucks will impact business.

“I don't think it would take more than a few times for a customer to go, ‘Wow, that was a big, stinky truck that just went by. I don't know if I want to come back here again,’” he said.

Casella has said the landfill they hope to build in Dalton is necessary to expand the state and the region’s landfill capacity.

But for Dowling, building a new landfill seems like the wrong decision.

“There's just a better way to handle waste. And, you know, we can't just keep piling it up out in the beautiful countryside,” he said.

Landfilling is last on New Hampshire’s hierarchy of ways to deal with solid waste, behind other options like waste reduction, recycling, and composting.

It’s been almost two decades since New Hampshire has updated the state’s solid waste plan. The proposed legislation would stop state regulators from permitting new landfills before the plan is revised.

A new solid waste working group has convened in New Hampshire to help plan for the future of the state’s trash. The group’s next meeting is on February 25.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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