Bessette: Ban Landfills from Water Supply Protection Districts; Video and Transcript

A citizen petition to ban landfills from Northampton’s Water Supply Protection districts (see below) came before the Economic Development, Housing and Land Use Committee (EDHLU) on February 23. The committee ultimately declined to take a position on the petition after being advised by Mayor Clare Higgins that city councilors should respect the ‘gag order’ advised by attorney Michael Pill, and reserve all discussion of matters that might affect expansion of the municipal landfill for full meetings of the City Council.

Here is a 6-minute YouTube video and transcript of remarks made by Dr. Jo-Anne Bessette during public comment in favor of the petition. Dr. Bessette is a member of Water Not Waste, which opposes expansion of Northampton’s landfill.

Transcript of Dr. Bessette’s remarks

Northampton’s current zoning law Section 350-15.4 bans landfills in all of Northampton’s Water Supply Protection Districts except for the landfill expansion in the Water Supply Protection District over the Barnes aquifer. The landfill expansion is referred to as the sanitary landfill that has a site assignment permit. The landfill expansion was given a site assignment by the Northampton Board of Health in 2006 BEFORE any of the risk assessment studies on health, air quality, water quality, and the environment were done. These studies were done in 2008 and 2009 and are still ongoing in 2010.

The citizens sponsored zoning amendment removes this exemption for a landfill in a Water Supply Protection District. This means all Water Supply Protection Districts in Northampton will ban landfills just as all Water Supply Protection Districts in the entire state of Massachusetts ban landfills because landfills have the highest contaminant threat to the water supply.

In the late 1960’s Edson White, an engineer hired by the city of Northampton, warned against siting a landfill over the Barnes aquifer stating that it would lead to contamination of wetlands, the Hannum Brook, and the aquifer. Another engineer, Almer Huntley, working for proponents of the landfill stated that this would be a state of the art sanitary landfill and would not cause contamination. The city fired Edson White and put the landfill over the aquifer. This is the existing landfill off of Glendale Road.

What happened? Contamination of the wetlands, Hannum Brook, and the aquifer have all occurred. Even the Mass. DEP Office of Research and Standards has stated that landfill contamination of the Hannum Brook and wetlands qualifies as an environmental hazard. The Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee has reviewed water quality data that shows increasing landfill leachate contamination. Wetlands downgradient of the landfill show marked elevations in the level of arsenic which is known to be mobilized by landfill leachate. None of this was discussed in the recent BPW resolution.

Will history repeat itself? Currently a city hired engineer, Dr. Shanahan, has discussed a contaminant transport model that predicts little to no contamination if the landfill expands over the Barnes aquifer, yet Dr. Newton from the Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee has developed a contaminant transport model that predicts contamination of the aquifer is likely if the landfill expands. And officials from the Mass. DEP have stated they cannot guarantee there will not be contamination of the aquifer. These concerns were not mentioned in the BPW resolution.

In 2006, former Mass. DEP commissioner Bob Golledge gave the first ever waiver to site the proposed Northampton landfill expansion over an aquifer and in the Zone II recharge protection area for a public well. The waiver required that a Water Supply Protection area be established over this same area to give greater protection to the Barnes aquifer. Bob Golledge’s philosophy was not to export Mass. trash even if it meant bypassing state regulations banning landfills over aquifers.

So Commissioner Golledge said on the one hand a landfill with the highest contaminant threat rating to the water supply can be sited over the aquifer, but on the other hand the aquifer must be protected by a Water Supply Protection District. This is inconsistent.

I have spoken with current officials at the Mass. DEP about this and they’ve told me they do not want a landfill exempted in a Water Supply Protection District. All WSP districts in Massachusetts ban landfills.

Even if the landfill expansion proposal proceeds through the local permitting process it is not a given that the proposal will obtain the ATC permit from the Mass. DEP.

Also litigation can occur at the local government and at the state level which would tie up the landfill expansion proposal for many years. Northampton and other communities will have to find other means of trash disposal.

The voters have spoken against the landfill expansion, there is no guaranteed landfill revenue to pay for the millions of dollars the city will have to borrow for the landfill expansion, which puts Northampton taxpayers at considerable risk. And there are affordable alternatives from increased recycling, composting, and reuse, to volume discounts for curbside collection of trash up to 40% and in this economy perhaps more savings on trash collection contracts are possible. Three other landfills in the area are available that are not over aquifers and not within the Zone II recharge areas of public wells. These include South Hadley, Granby, and Chicopee.

Any additional fuel costs would be offset by volume discounts and by improved recycling leading to less trash to cart away. Northampton taxpayers can actually save money and avoid further litigation. The best protection for the Barnes aquifer and the environment is no landfill expansion and to work with BAPAC to clean up the contaminant threats that already exist. Northampton, as a community with a reputation for being concerned about the environment, should not become the only community in the entire state that exempts a landfill in a Water Supply Protection district.

Comments for the public record, February 23, 2010

Jo-Anne Bessette

See also:

Rebuttal to Dr. Geoffrey Kuter’s Brief for Landfill Expansion (1/26/10)
The city has operated a landfill for a generation yet our recycling rates lag behind most of our neighboring communities and the statewide average (MS Word document). This history suggests that having an economic incentive to entomb more tons of waste is powerful, and more than offsets any recycling benefits that might accrue from having control over how our solid waste is handled.

We don’t share Dr. Kuter’s confidence that landfill expansion will not increase environmental risks. It is inevitable that the landfill liners will degrade and leak over time.

The landfill expansion ballot question was simple and fair. It was debated extensively during the mayoral campaign, as documented by’s video recordings.

The Landfill Alternatives Study suggests that any additional costs to Northampton to export its waste will be modest, on the order of 5-20%. There is also the prospect that landfill capacity in upstate New York and Pennsylvania will increase as New York City is slated to divert its waste elsewhere. If we’re exporting waste out of state, this would likely benefit us. But if we’re operating our own landfill, we might suffer if our clients defect to lower-cost operations. 

We do agree with Dr. Kuter that attractive opportunities beckon in recycling our source separated organics.

Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee: “Why Aquifers and Landfills Don’t Mix”

We also present this selection from the 9/1/09 minutes of BAPAC, which indicate a desire not only to oppose the expansion of the Northampton regional landfill but also to remove the waste from the older unlined portion of the landfill.


DATE: 9/1/09

LOCATION: Easthampton Municipal Offices, Easthampton


J. Barrett, Holyoke
A. Zoeller, Holyoke
J. Burkott, Holyoke
K. Taylor, Westfield
X W. Darling, Westfield
C. Seklecki, Easthampton
T. Newton, Easthampton
X R. Newton, Easthampton
X S. Beckley, Easthampton
X M. Czerwiec, Easthampton
J. Slattery, Southampton
X A. Capra, PVPC
X Mark Girard, Southampton

Others Present: Buttrick, Easthampton Aquifer Committee; Mark Reed, Heritage Survey

Northampton Landfill Expansion
The proposed expansion of the Northampton Landfill has generated great public debate. BAPAC
has remained somewhat on the fringe of this debate with the noted exception of Bob Newton’s
presentation of his GIS-based model of the Barnes Aquifer to the City of Northampton, MA
DEP, and other stakeholders. Since BAPAC’s last meeting, the City Council has been acting as
the judicial board identified to determine the outcome of the Special Permit. As such, the City
Council is unable to discuss the landfill expansion with its constituents outside of council
meetings. This situation has inspired opponents of the landfill to seek a ballot question at the
upcoming election about whether or not people support expansion of the landfill over the Barnes
Aquifer. The status of the ballot question is unclear at this point. Anne Capra was contacted by
one of the organizers of this initiative who asked for assistance in phrasing the question but was
only able to recommend that no matter how the question is phrased, education regarding the
question needs to be performed beforehand.

Therefore, Anne Capra recommended that BAPAC issue a formal position regarding the landfill
expansion. BAPAC has already commented in opposition to the landfill expansion under the
MEPA EIR. BAPAC will develop a position paper stating the following:

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.
Stuart Beckley will begin drafting the position paper and circulate to the rest of the committee
for comment. BAPAC would like to issue the paper as soon as possible. Anne will investigate
any upcoming opportunity for BAPAC to comment on the Special Permit, MEPA filings, or any

Valley Advocate: “MDPH Admonishes Northampton” (10/16/08)
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, swamped with calls from concerned Valley residents, has warned the City of Northampton against trumpeting a recent MDPH study as evidence that the city’s landfill poses no threat to public health…

Video: Department of Public Health Presents Landfill Study

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