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Garbage Squeeze

Daniel D'Ambrosio

September 08, 2009

With the Hartford landfill closed, and trash still arriving at the rate of 800,000 tons annually at its trash-to-energy incinerator in Hartford, the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority was counting on building a new ash landfill in Franklin.

The folks in Franklin had other ideas, and their objection to the landfill culminated in a recent protest on the Capitol steps that included Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia. Prague held up a letter of support from Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

A few days later, CRRA, a quasi-public agency, announced it was suspending its efforts to put a landfill on the 400-acre sand-and-gravel operation in Franklin on the banks of the Shetucket River.

"I'm not gloating, I'm just happy," said Susan Allen, a Franklin resident.

Although Allen opposed the landfill mostly on gut feeling ("You don't need the science"), Sylvia Broude, lead organizer of the Toxics Action Center in Boston, Mass., ticks off the technical reasons to be opposed.

"You don't want to build a landfill over drinking water and on the banks of the Shetucket River," says Broude. "The Environmental Protection Agency says all landfills will eventually leak and CRRA agrees this landfill is very likely to leak."

Broude says incinerator ash contains "some of the most toxic chemicals out there, things like lead, mercury and dioxins."

But CRRA spokesman Paul Nonnenmacher, citing the groundwater, maintains the Franklin site was the best in the state for the landfill, according to the criteria established by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"There was so many things said about the water on that site that had never been backed up by science until we went out there and tested and found the truth," said Nonnenmacher. "It does not produce enough water to be a public drinking supply."

Also, says Nonnenmacher, the groundwater is flowing toward a major river through sand and gravel, which is exactly what the DEP calls for in siting an ash landfill. If there is a leak in the dual liners required, the ash is carried into the river where it "wouldn't create concentrations that would kill fish or bugs," according to Diane Duva, assistant director of the DEP.

Duva confirmed that Franklin was at the top of the list of sites the department put together in 1989 at the direction of the General Assembly. Nearby Putnam was also at the top of that list, Wheelabrator Technologies, a private Massachusetts company, opened a landfill there in 1999.

With Connecticut's three other ash landfills in Hartford, Shelton and Montville all closed, Attorney General Blumenthal is concerned.

"I have advocated that there be regulatory oversight concerning Wheelabrator and the entire industry," said Blumenthal. "Where competition is lacking and there is significant monopoly power there should be regulations in the public interest."

Nonnenmacher confirms that CRRA ash is going to Putnam, and that the tipping fees, the amount charged to dump the ash, are 14 percent higher "than if we had a publicly held landfill." While recycling rates in Connecticut could be higher Broude argues we could virtually eliminate solid waste with the right policies Nonnenmacher says it's unrealistic to believe we can recycle our way out of our garbage problem.

"That's part of the issue here, what does the public want CRRA to do?" said Duva. "As the EPA says, there's really not a garbage fairy to take your garbage away."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
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