Early Plans For New Landfill In North Country Draw Swift Backlash

May 6, 2019

The proposed landfill site is close to Forest Lake State Park, in the North Country town of Dalton.
Credit NH State Parks

Residents in the North Country town of Dalton are organizing against a proposed new landfill near Forest Lake State Park.

The plan comes from Vermont-based Casella, which says it’s running out of room for trash in the North Country.

More than a year ago, the town of Bethlehem voted down an expansion for the near- capacity Casella landfill there.

Now, the company looking into building a new landfill in the town of Dalton, west of Mount Washington near the Vermont-New Hampshire border.

Jon Swan bought a retirement home in the area, which he describes as “God’s country,” five years ago.

He’s now organizing opposition to the landfill proposal, which may soon be reviewed by the North Country Council at the request of the town of Dalton.

The project still needs many more government approvals, with public input, before it can proceed. Swan says he’d likely move away if that happens.

"You know eventually there's going to be contaminants that get out,” Swan says. “It's going to really destroy the lifestyle that we all enjoy here in the North Country.”

Swan says he’s invited Gov. Chris Sununu and other state and federal lawmakers to visit the potential landfill site next month, in hopes they’ll push Casella to scrap the project.

“I’m not against landfills,” Swan says. “It’s just this is a terrible location. It’s right next to this beautiful body of water.”

The proposed landfill would occupy a smaller part of the large privately-owned parcel shaded on this map of Dalton and surrounding towns. Forest Lake sits at lower right corner of the parcel.
Credit Casella via Town of Dalton, Save Forest Lake

Forest Lake State Park is one of New Hampshire’s 10 original state parks, created in 1935, according to the state parks website.

Casella has signed an option-to-purchase agreement for a large privately-owned parcel adjacent to the park. It’s not clear yet exactly where in that parcel the landfill would go.

Casella vice president Joe Fusco says it’s very rare in the Northeast to put a new landfill on undeveloped land like the area in Dalton, which he describes as a "greenfield." 

He says the company’s preliminary studies suggest the site would be safe and geologically ideal for such a facility – but there’s a great deal of planning left to do.

“Our job and the job of anybody who runs such a facility is to do it in the safest, most responsible manner,” Fusco says. “The good news is these facilities are highly permitted, highly regulated, highly scrutinized by public agencies, and as it should be.”

Whatever happens in Dalton, Fusco says Casella will need more landfill space in Northern New England within the next several years.

“As we all work together to figure out how we’re going to reduce, reuse and recycle more, there’s still going to be waste that needs to be disposed of safely,” he says. “I think landfills, for now, are part of a complementary system – a holistic approach.”  

Towns in Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have voted repeatedly against expanding Casella landfills in recent years. Opponents of the facilities cite environmental concerns and a desire to reduce waste, rather than make room for more of it.

Meanwhile, Casella is facing a federal lawsuit at their Bethlehem landfill over allegations of water contamination in the Ammonoosuc River.

New Hampshire is also home to New England's largest landfill, the Waste Management-run Turnkey facility in Rochester. It got state approval for a major expansion last year, but opponents are still appealing the case.