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Site Would Be Safe, Save Towns Money

RAYMOND J. O'BRIEN

March 22, 2009

Legislators have the opportunity to either save money for Connecticut municipalities while supporting responsible environmental policy, or add to towns' economic burden while losing control over a key environmental issue.

It all depends on whether they approve a bill that would prevent the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority from building an ash landfill in Franklin. Building the ash landfill will save taxpayers and residents of many towns as much as $10 million annually. If not, their trash disposal costs will only increase.

The bill, SB 3, would also compromise the state's proven environmental policy of responsibly disposing of trash by turning it into energy. If the legislature approves the bill, the state would lose control over how and where it disposes of the ash the odorless, inorganic residue from the trash-to-energy process. This would be an environmental step backward.

Last March, the trash authority announced that land behind the former Franklin Farms on Route 32 is the best location to replace the now-closed Hartford ash landfill. The CRRA made its decision after screening 77 sites across Connecticut, comparing each to the state Department of Environmental Protection's rigorous criteria for siting landfills, and determined that the Franklin site apparently best meets the engineering, geological, environmental and public health protection requirements. The DEP requires an ash landfill to be above an aquifer, adjacent to a Class B stream or river and far from any source of public drinking water so that any unexpected leaks would be carried safely away.

To confirm the initial site-screening results, the trash authority is conducting detailed tests on the property. One key test will determine whether the aquifer beneath the property is capable of serving as a public drinking water supply. If it is, then the DEP won't permit construction of an ash landfill there. Similarly, if testing finds that the proposed ash landfill could affect private wells or adversely affect residents' health or the surrounding environment, the site couldn't be permitted.

Regardless, and perhaps understandably, some Franklin residents are opposed. They're afraid ash could leak into their drinking water, the ash landfill would be an eyesore and the truck traffic on Route 32 would cause significant problems.

What the opponents fail to recognize is that DEP and state Department of Transportation standards are perhaps the nation's most rigorous. Before receiving any of the necessary permits, the CRRA would first have to prove to the DEP that the environment and public health will be well protected; and prove to the DOT that the trash authority has a well thought-out plan to ensure that Route 32 which carries more than 10,000 vehicles daily can safely absorb the traffic resulting from the additional 60 trucks visiting the site daily.

Undeterred by the scientific facts, opponents have been claiming the ash landfill would be the downfall of Franklin:

They claim the trash authority plans to excavate 350 acres of woodland, when in fact up to 75 percent of the site would be preserved forever. The ash landfill itself will be bordered by acres of publicly accessible open-space woodlands.

They claim the ash landfill will be 14 stories high, when in fact the permitting process would not allow the ash landfill to rise so high above the surrounding trees.

They claim the property is a source of drinking water, despite the fact that the CRRA is just now performing tests to make that determination. If the site is a potential drinking water source, it cannot be the site for a landfill.

And they claim the presence of the ash landfill would prevent them from tapping the adjacent Shetucket River for drinking water, when in fact the DEP cannot permit the landfill if it would threaten the Shetucket's water quality.

If the legislature passes this bill and prevents construction of the ash landfill, the trash authority will consider moving to the second-best site. But with a precedent set, that town's legislators could introduce similar blocking legislation. If that were to pass, the CRRA would have to go to the third-best site. But again, that community's legislators could also introduce blocking legislation ... and so on.

The end result would be that taxpayers in CRRA towns would be forced to pay millions more to truck our ash to privately owned landfills, perhaps as far away as Ohio or Kentucky, and the state would have less environmental control than at a publicly owned ash landfill in this state.

By constructing a publicly owned ash landfill that protects the environment and public health, the CRRA can save Connecticut municipalities a total of about $10 million annually in disposal and transportation fees. And if Franklin is confirmed as the best site and the DEP and the DOT grant the necessary permits, Franklin will also benefit by receiving a host community benefit, ensured by statute, of up to $1.5 million annually.

We urge legislators to look at the long-term issues for Connecticut and its municipalities and reject the proposal to block the proposed ash landfill in Franklin.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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