From: Kristen Senz, Eagle Times, Claremont, N.H.
Published September 21, 2004 12:00 AM

Newport, N.H., to consult lawyer on landfill acquisition options

Sep. 21—NEWPORT, N.H. — Officials in Newport are moving closer to deciding whether the town ought to acquire the ash landfill located off the John Stark Highway as part of the New Hampshire-Vermont Solid Waste Project's planned dissolution in 2007.


Jeffrey Meyers, an attorney for the project, asked that Newport make arrangements to assume ownership of the closed ash landfill by next August if residents decide it's the right move.


At a board of selectmen's meeting Monday, Newport Town Manager Dan O'Neill suggested board members meet with the town's attorney to discuss options for obtaining the landfill and potential liabilities that could be attached to it in the future. That way, O'Neill said, the board will be prepared to answer questions at a public hearing on the subject.


The selectmen agreed and O'Neill said he would schedule a non-public meeting with the lawyer soon.


With the waste project slated to dissolve in 2007, the fate of its assets -- principally, the landfill -- has been unclear. O'Neill said the town's motivation to acquire the 90-acre landfill, which the state Department of Environmental Services deemed free of contamination, comes from a desire to prevent future development of the site and to ensure that proper monitoring continues.


Meanwhile Katie Lajoie, a member of the advocacy group Working On Waste, claims that high levels of dissolved metals and specific conductivity detected during sampling done at the landfill in April warrant a closer look. She notified DES of her concerns in a letter in July.


In late August, DES officials wrote back and agreed the findings required more consideration. State officials also wrote to the solid waste project ordering additional investigation into the sampling results and that repairs to certain wells be completed before this winter.


Mike Dufor of the Sunapee-based firm, Habor Hill Consulting, was chosen to take on the responsibilities of the project's former Executive Director Denise Callum in July. Dufor did not return several calls seeking comment.


Golder Associates, a national environmental consulting firm, is currently compiling a complete history of the landfill and assessing its present condition. The company's report should be available within the next two months, officials say.


"Their report will play an important role in how confident communities feel going into the future about the landfill's status," O'Neill said.


By acquiring the landfill, Newport would gain control of the slightly less than $1 million currently in a Landfill Closure Fund. The fund was set up as a reserve in case anything should go wrong at the landfill resulting in the need for large-scale cleanup measures.


If the money isn't used at the landfill, it would go toward reducing taxes for the 29 project member towns, of which Newport, Claremont and Springfield, Vt., are the largest, O'Neill said. He added that money is an incentive for ownership.


But there are drawbacks as well. Should something go wrong at the landfill after Newport takes it over, it could be challenging to get other towns to chip in for excessive costs, O'Neill said. Other difficulties could arise if the towns don't believe that a problem exists, he added.


As for the details of the financial transaction that would transfer ownership, O'Neill said, there's a chance the project could just give the landfill to Newport. In any case, however, a decision to acquire it would have to be approved at either a regular or special town meeting.


"(There are) a number of ways to skin this cat," O'Neill said Monday. "We just need to look at what's going to be the best way and fair to all those concerned."


The ash landfill opened in 1988 to hold ash that is the byproduct of garbage incinerated at the Wheelabrator facility in Claremont to make electricity.


(c) 2004, Eagle Times, Claremont, N.H. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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