City Councilors Michael Bardsley and Marianne LaBarge Seek a Non-Binding Public Vote on the Fate of the Landfill

This press release appeared today on the Sustain Northampton Yahoo group:

Press Release


JULY 3, 2009

On Thursday, July 2, 2009, At Large City Councilor Michael Bardsley and Ward Six City Councilor Marianne LaBarge submitted an Order to be place[d] on the agenda of the meeting of the Nothampton City Council scheduled for Thursday, July 9, 2009. That order requested that the Northampton CIty Council place on the ballot for the November election a non-binding public opinion advisory question to determine whether voters of the City of Northampton approve of the proposed plan to expand the city’s landfill over the Barnes Aquifer. Councilors Bardsley and LaBarge submitted this order at the request of several concerned citizens.

“I think it’s only right that the voters of Northampton have a chance to clearly express their opinions on the landfill expansion,” said Councilor LaBarge. “On the Proposition 2 1/2 Override and the Community Preservation Act, the people had their say. We want to give them the same opportunity on this critical and controversial decision.”

“The Board of Public Works has held forums to inform the public about the landfill expansion,” said Councilor Bardsley. “That educational effort has had a positive impact on those who were able to attend, or who watched them on the community television. Unfortunately, because of legal advice given by City Solicitor Janet Sheppard, the citizens of Northampton have been prohibited from discussing this critical issue with their city councilors.”

Bardsley noted that a formal hearing process will be implemented by the city council once an application for a special permit is filed. “We should have learned by now that a formal hearing does not allow for a real community conversation,” Bardsley said. “Though these required formal hearings are often useful, you cannot accurately gauge the opinion of the general public.”

“A non-binding public opinion advisory question would let the voters speak on a decision which will affect our city for years, possibly for generations. It’s in keeping with the spirit of the Best Practices Committe’s recommendations by providing the opportunity for a broad dialogue. Advocates and opponents of the proposed landfill expansion will have a chance to make their case to the entire population, and the voters will be able to express their opinions and hopefully be heard by City Council.”

If the Council approves this Order, the question will appear on the November 3 ballot. If the council defeats the Order, the group of citizens supporting this proposed ballot initiative can have it placed on the ballot by having 10% of the registered voters of Northampton sign a petition in support of that question.

The Order submitted by Councilors Labarge and Bardsley is as follows:

Ordered that,

The City Council of the City of Northampton orders that the question below be placed on the ballot for the election in November 2009, allowing the voters of the City of Northampton to give a non-binding public advisory opinion to determine if they would authorize the City of Northampton to expand the City of Northampton’s landfill over the Barnes Aquifer.

“Shall the City of Northampton expand the Northampton landfill over the Barnes Aquifer?”

______Yes ______No

See also:

Video: Board of Public Works Discusses Scope of Waste Management Alternatives Study at 1/21/09 Special Meeting

Video and Slides: Public Forum on Innovative Approaches to Manage Northampton’s Solid Waste, 11/19/08
City Engineer Jim Laurila gave a presentation on Northampton’s current solid waste management program (PDF, 54KB). He was followed by Gary Liss of Gary Liss & Associates (“Zero Waste to Cool the Planet”, PDF, 975KB) and Alan Cohen of HDR (“Innovative Approaches to Managing Northampton’s Solid Waste”, PDF, 5.9MB)…

Mayor Clare Higgins asserts that the region has a moral obligation to deal with its trash locally. The Valley Advocate quotes her as saying, “We are providing a regional public service… Western Massachusetts should deal with Western Massachusetts trash. And even leaving the region out of the equation, Northampton has to send its trash somewhere. What are the options? Will we feel good about ourselves if we ship our trash out of state to a poorer community?”

Gary Liss challenges this notion (1:55:10-1:56:30), saying, “I don’t think you have to assume that you have to provide landfill capacity. You could provide transfer capacity. The assumption of having to provide local capacity was in the 80s, when there was a concern that there wasn’t going to be disposal capacity available anywhere, and ‘we’re running out of landfill space’. That was the driver for a lot of the programs of the 80s and 90s. That doesn’t compute anymore with the regional haul…

Department of Public Works: Proposed Phase 5 Expansion Information

Northampton Redoubt: “Mary Serreze interviews Northampton BPW Chair Dave Reckhow on the proposed landfill expansion” (11/15/08)
Reckhow: “If there are conflicts between waste reduction and the economics of operating the landfill, we’ll want to examine that. We’ll need to define our priorities. I believe that we should be reducing our waste stream. Whether that is compatible with the landfill expansion has yet to be determined.”

Valley Advocate: “Trash is Good” (10/9/08)
In the landfill business, trash is good. Currently Northampton’s Solid Waste Enterprise Fund relies on 45,000 to 50,000 tons per year in order to meet budget. If Pioneer Valley residents significantly reduce what they throw away, the city may move to expand the landfill’s “wasteshed”–that is, to entice tonnage from other areas. If another regional facility offers haulers a cheaper alternative, this strategy may fail. Duseau Trucking has a permit to operate a transfer station in North Hatfield, with rail access. If, for instance, Duseau were able to ship our region’s trash to another facility at a lower cost, it is possible that the Northampton municipal landfill would end up cash-starved…

Video: Department of Public Health Presents Landfill Study