Video: Mayoral Debate, 10/27/09; Landfill Risks; Costs of Alternatives to Landfill Expansion

[Our original video for this debate loses audio in the middle, so we have have broken it up into two parts to work around the problem.]

Here is a complete video in two parts [part one, part two] of the 10/27/09 forum for Northampton’s mayoral candidates sponsored by Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne LaBarge, the Ward Six Association and Water Not Waste. Michael Bardsley squared off against incumbent Clare Higgins. The forum took place at the R.K. Finn Ryan Road Elementary School. This video was recorded by Lachlan Ziegler and is 1 hour 29 minutes long.

Mayoral Debate: Part 1 of 2

Mayoral Debate: Part 2 of 2

Video Highlights on YouTube

Question: “Dr. Newton of the Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee believes there is a risk of contamination of the aquifer from the landfill expansion. This week, the Advisory Committee has also been circulating a position paper which states, ‘BAPAC believes the long-term risk to the Barnes Aquifer far outweighs the short-term benefits of expanding this regional landfill.’ By contrast, tonight on the Clare for Mayor website it says, ‘We have studied the air and ground water issues and found there to be no risk.’ Do you find this statement on the mayor’s website to be credible and justified by our current level of scientific knowledge?”

Question: “We’ve talked about whether or not to expand the landfill, and we’ve talked about the other options, and I’m wondering if we can get just a little bit more specific about some of the other options that you’ve studied, and what their viability would be for the city of Northampton, and if they include bringing trash elsewhere, how would we ensure as concerned citizens that citizens of other cities and other locations aren’t just receiving the problems that we don’t want to face with dumping our own trash in our city.”

In responding to this question, Mayor Higgins says (emphasis added), “We could close the landfill, create a transfer station where people could bring their recyclables and their trash, and it would be picked up and taken to some other landfill. Currently, it would go to one of the three remaining landfills in Western Mass if we close–Chicopee, South Hadley, Granby–and once those close it would probably end up being trucked out of state or on a train out of state, or out of the region, including as far away as the Midwest. And the cost, that would probably double, up to about $120 per ton…”

It’s not clear to us how Mayor Higgins estimates such dramatically higher costs for out-of-state waste disposal. Here is page 30 from Stantec/HDR’s 8/17/09 Landfill Alternatives Study presentation (630KB, PDF). It shows how Northampton’s current $68.07/ton average net tip fee for commercial customers compares to some out-of-state disposal options:

It would seem that Northampton could ship its trash today to Seneca Meadows – Seneca Falls, NY for a cost that’s comparable to the fee the Northampton landfill currently charges its commercial customers. Indeed, the capacity of landfills in New York and Pennsylvania to receive our waste might even increase over the next 20 years, as the Solid Waste Management Alternatives Study (PDF, 2.7MB) notes:

Recently New York City enacted a new Solid Waste Management Plan that requires export of waste via rail or barge. This means that residential waste collected in New York City (approximately 11,500 tons per day) that is currently going to Northeast landfills, such as those in upstate New York and Pennsylvania, will be exported to Virginia, South Carolina, Ohio and other locations accessible by rail or barge. New York City recently entered into two 20-year long-term contracts that will divert approximately 3,000 tons per day of waste from landfills in the Northeast. This is relevant to Northampton because it is likely that landfill capacity accessible by transfer trailer from western Massachusetts to New York and Pennsylvania will become available over the next 20 years.  [page 6.86]
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection appears to agree that shipping waste out of state is a cost-competitive option that’s likely to become increasingly popular, according to their Draft Solid Waste Master Plan Framework and Stakeholder Discussion Questions (MS Word document, November 2008, emphasis added):

Even with increased fuel costs, the cost of out-of-state disposal remains very low compared to in-state disposal, because inexpensive rail transport carries waste to out-of-state landfills with lower tipping fees. About 1.4 million tons of Massachusetts’ solid waste is disposed of out of state each year. With reduced capacity available at in-state landfills, more Massachusetts waste will be exported in the future: by 2014, exports are expected to rise to between 2.5 and 4.1 million tons annually.
It’s true that moving our trash around takes energy, and this should be minimized as much as possible, but shipping our trash out of state is a win for people and the environment if it means reducing the overall health risks to citizens and contamination risks to water resources. The latter are likely to become increasingly valuable as the nation’s South and West are expected to face growing shortages of water.

Economic and environmental justice should always be key factors in landfill site selection, whether here or elsewhere. There is no moral benefit in putting an aquifer at risk when better alternatives are readily at hand.

See also:

Wall Street Journal: “In the U.S., water managers in 36 states anticipate shortages by 2013” (2/17/09)

“Bringing Agriculture Back to Water – A Sustainable Solution for the 21st Century” (PDF)
Because of water supply concerns, many observers and agricultural scientists (Postel 1992, Reisner 1986) point out that desert irrigated agriculture is unsustainable. Salt build up due to evaporation in an arid climate eventually makes soils useless. Only enhanced flushing of the soils requiring ever-increasing amounts of water can stave off the inevitable poisoning (Postel 1992, Arax and Wartzman 2003)…

Based on the past, present and gloomy outlook to the future, we believe that the more natural and sustainable agricultural system for the U.S. is irrigated assisted rain-fed agriculture in the east and not desert irrigated agriculture in the west. Because of natural rainfall in the south only 6-9″ of irrigated water are needed for crops rather than the four feet needed in Arizona and California…

Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee: “Why Aquifers and Landfills Don’t Mix”
[From the 9/1/09 minutes of BAPAC:] If a landfill did not currently exist over the Barnes Aquifer, under no circumstances would we consider locating one there. The current landfill has already caused contamination to Hannum Brook and surrounding private wells. BAPAC believes that the oldest, unlined cell of the landfill is the likely source of the contamination. Although the liner technology proposed for the expansion is considered “state of the art”, it will inevitably fail someday, causing contamination of a public drinking water supply. When the liner fails, it will likely be long after those in a position today to make this decision are living; but, it will fail. Therefore, BAPAC does not support the expansion of the Northampton Landfill over the Zone II recharge area of the Barnes Aquifer. BAPAC also recommends that the City begin to remediate the existing contamination by removing the waste from the unlined cell. Global warming forecasts for the Northeast indicate that precipitation will increase in the region, potentially increasing groundwater levels, creating greater opportunity for migration of contaminants from the unlined cell to the surrounding environment.

Video: Mayoral Debate Sponsored by GREEN Northampton and WRSI, 10/20/09

Water Not Waste: Mayoral Debate on WGGB channel 40 (10/20/09)
Michael Bardsley stated, “I don’t think that we should have an expansion unless we can guarantee the health and safety of the residents living near there and also the environment.” He also added that the City will probably have to close the landfill as the expansion would not be completed before the current landfill would reach capacity. This he said would provide “Northampton an opportunity to change our habits in the way that we deal with our trash.”

Video: City Council Meeting of 10/15/09; Odgers Challenges Accuracy of Mayor’s Campaign Website
[Mimi Odgers:] “[On] the mayor’s website, in her issues column, it states about the landfill expansion… ‘We have studied the air and ground water issues and found there to be no risk.’ This is also a problem I have because at the recent debate…the panel person also stated that there’s no risks for the expansion…

“The Massachusetts Department of Public Health stated..from July 9th of 2009, that they cannot currently conclude whether breathing outdoor air in the neighborhoods surrounding the Northampton sanitary landfill could result in health effects. ‘The information we need to make a decision is not available. We are working with the City of Northampton and [the] Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to gather the needed information.’

Water Not Waste Achieves Ballot Question Signature Goal (9/15/09)
It is official that we collected the required number of registered voter’s signatures and our question WILL be on the November 3rd ballot!

The question reads:

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

Video: Special Meeting of the Board of Public Works and the City Council, 8/21/09; Landfill Ballot Question No. 2
Northampton’s 34% recycling rate lags that of many nearby communities. By operating a landfill, the city has an incentive to tip more tons of waste, not reduce them… The claim that there will be “no new environmental risk for the city” seems scientifically impossible. As noted at Zero Waste America, “even the best liner and leachate collection system will ultimately fail due to natural deterioration.” It might be plausible to claim the environmental risk from landfill expansion is small, but it’s not zero.

Key Portions of the Solid Waste Management Alternatives Study
A critical element missing from the study is an estimate of the value of Barnes Aquifer water at risk from contamination due to landfill expansion. Neither the words “Barnes” nor “Aquifer” appear anywhere in the study.

Video and Slides: Public Forum on Innovative Approaches to Manage Northampton’s Solid Waste, 11/19/08
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…

Paradise City Forum: Landfill and Aquifer