Vt. halts plan to back-permit Chittenden Solid Waste District glass dumping

VtDigger
Published: 11/26/2020 7:19:43 PM
Modified: 11/26/2020 7:19:51 PM

A plan to issue permits after the fact for improper glass disposal by the Chittenden Solid Waste District has been put on hold until the Attorney General’s Office closes the enforcement case.

The decision to pause the back-permitting process came after a public outcry. On Friday, the state solid waste program, part of the Agency of Natural Resources, announced “no further processing of the Draft Certification Amendments” would occur until the Attorney General’s Office has finished its investigation.

Critics, including other district operators, feared providing permits after the fact would create a double standard and erode the public’s trust in state-mandated recycling programs. They and others said the Chittenden district should be held legally accountable.

The attorney general has now had the enforcement case for 2½ years, but has yet to reach a settlement or file a lawsuit against CSWD.

In addition to two other solid waste districts — Northeast Kingdom and Central Vermont — Newport Mayor Paul Monette also urged the state to hold off issuing back permits. He said citizens had been “bamboozled” when the district collected recyclables and ground the glass up instead of using it to make new glass containers.

District officials have maintained there is no market for recycled glass and that grinding it up for use in road projects, for example, is an acceptable use.

In April 2018, the Agency of Natural Resources sent the Chittenden Solid Waste District a notice of alleged violation for disposing of “thousands of cubic yards of discarded crushed glass” at two sites by the closed town landfill and the district’s composting facility in Williston. The alleged violations were for disposal outside a certified facility and for failing to accurately report it to the state.

A state inspector estimated one of the piles of ground-up glass was 225 feet long, 90 feet wide at the top and 40 feet tall.

A third site was also identified in the 2018 investigation, where glass had been disposed of over the embankment of one of the roads on the Williston property.

A public hearing about the recent permitting efforts on Oct. 29 was attended by about 40 people. Many people expressed concern and outrage over the idea of back-permitting the disposal, which would in essence make the disposal legal.

“A lot of people were asking for this at the public hearing that we had to put the certification process on hold pending the resolution of the enforcement case,” said John Beling, general counsel for the Department of Environmental Conservation, also part of ANR.

“We took that to heart. We thought it through. We decided that was the best approach in these circumstances,” Beling added.

According to Beling, the pause on back-permitting will apply to all three permits that the Chittenden Solid Waste District had been asked to apply for by the AG, to cover the three areas where they had disposed of glass improperly.

“What’s in front of us now is dealing with the enforcement case,” said Beling. “If that’s resolved soon then everything will start to move soon.”

John Brabant, the director of regulatory affairs for the nonprofit group Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said the decision to put the brakes on the retroactive permit was a minor victory. Brabant, a former regulator for ANR, has been following the case closely.

“I think it was the right decision,” he said. “It seemed that they listened to public comment, so that was encouraging.”

The hold also “puts the ANR and the AG in a better position at the negotiating table,” if they pursue a settlement, Brabant said. After-the-fact permitting would effectively condone CSWD’s actions, he said, weakening the case against the district, and possibly undermining a state enforcement action requiring restitution or site clean up.

Monette thinks the state needs to be tough on the district.

“Rather than reward CSWD by granting them after the fact permits for these illegal practices, we request that ANR prosecute CSWD in court, seeking restitution for the Vermont citizens that have been bamboozled in this terrible scheme dressed up as something green,” Monette wrote in a Nov. 10 letter to Denis Fekert, the certification section chief of the solid waste district.

Attorney General TJ Donovan said in a recent interview he believed a settlement would be reached soon with CSWD.

For now, Brabant says, “It’s wait and see.”




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