May 10—CONCORD — A two-mile buffer between landfills and state parks would protect the public and promote tourism, supporters say, while critics counter the legislation is unnecessary and not grounded in science.
A proposed landfill by Casella Waste Systems near the Lake Forest State Park on land in Dalton sparked the House-passed measure (HB 177), which would extend to all 68 state parks.
State Rep. Edith Tucker, D-Randolph, likened the importance of her bill to federal legislation that created the national park system.
"This is a major choice that you have before you," Tucker said during a 3 1/2-hour hearing before a Senate committee Monday.
Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, said even lined landfills eventually leak, and the buffer would give state officials enough time to respond to any threat to a park's area groundwater.
"This is to protect wetlands, protect water quality, protect air quality, protect wildlife habitat, protect property values and to prevent any negative visual impacts or from noises and odors," Hennessey said.
Samuel Nicolai, Casella's vice president of engineering and compliance, said current restrictions permit landfills to come within 500 feet of a home.
"This is not a scientific judgment," Nicolai said, noting the Mount Carberry landfill in the North County city of Berlin is within a mile of the Appalachian Trail.
Casella executives said state Department of Environmental Services reports conclude that without new landfills being built, the state will be nine to 23 million tons short of capacity.
"This is a hypocritical targeting of a specific industry, specific company and specific project," said Joseph Fusco, another Casella executive.
Landfill opponents have been working for three years to block the project known as the Granite State Landfill.
"Would you vote to site a New Hampshire state park next to a garbage landfill? Of course not, and for good, valid reasons," said Jon Swan, a founder of Save Forest Lake.
Towns take action
Last spring, Littleton voters, by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, supported a nonbinding warrant article opposing the landfill.
Dalton has adopted zoning that would prohibit the project, though Fusco said he's confident the firm will receive a permit.
Last month, the House voted to pass the ban by a vote of 197-159; Democrats backed it, 163-3, while House Republicans opposed the bill, 156-34.
State Rep. Howard Pearl, R-Loudon, said the House Environment and Agriculture Committee he chaired opposed the bill, 10-9.
"We felt this was a spot zoning issue, and that it should remain a locally decided issue," Pearl said.
Supporters of the bill said tourism was the second-biggest industry in the state, employing 70,000 people and generating $5.5 billion a year in revenue.
Nine states have adopted similar laws to create landfill buffers for parks, public hunting land and wildlife refuges, supporters said.
New Jersey, with a 6.5-mile buffer, is the only state in the Northeast that's adopted one.
Michael Wimsatt, director of the waste management division at DES, said if no new landfills are sited, New Hampshire may have to ship its trash out of state — as some states already have.
Casella estimates that 41% of the trash in Dalton will come from beyond New Hampshire's borders.
Frederick J. McNeill, chief engineer with Manchester's Department of Public Works, opposed it.
"Any limiting of future landfill siting will further the state's capacity problems," McNeill said.
"If a landfill siting is compliant with all environmental regulations, which are designed to safeguard the public and our natural resources, then its proximity to a state park should not be a factor."