SitRep on The Battle to Save Forest Lake

Dear Editor:

On Friday, April 9th, an historic moment took place with the passage of HB177 in the New Hampshire House. Despite HB177 coming out of the GOP-controlled Environment and Agriculture committee as ITL (Inexpedient To Legislate), along party lines 10-9, representatives from both parties worked behind the scenes, on the last day of the House session, to overturn the ITL and PASS HB177 with bi-partisan support, 197-159. In light of the fact that this battle to save Forest Lake State Park is now entering its third year, perhaps now is a good time to connect the dots and tally the score.

Since Casella Waste Systems first introduced itself to Dalton on April 3, 2019, when it attempted to sneakily cut out neighboring abutters, including New Hampshire State Parks, in order to circumvent the notification process required during the permitting process via a failed, “lot-line adjustment,” much has occurred since, and its important to make note. For the record, there was no initial, multi-million dollar offer to the Town of Dalton. In fact, Casella chose this site simply because it found a large landowner willing to sell to them in a small, poor, rural town with no zoning. They thought they could get in cheap and with little opposition.

However, less than four months later, the citizens of Dalton changed that when they voted, via a petitioned special town meeting, to empower the Town of Dalton with Emergency Temporary Zoning. This was a grassroots effort to protect the town from this uninvited, and unwanted landfill development project. This despite the very heavy-handed misinformation campaign waged by Casella Waste Systems to defeat the zoning initiative. This also proved to be the first organized effort to formally oppose Casella’s poorly sited industrial proposal. Fast-forward to January, 2020 for the first actual offer of money from Casella to the Town of Dalton, by way of a “no-strings attached gift” offer of $50,000-100,000 from John Casella’s “philanthropic” account. This was presented to the town by one of the leaders of the tiny pro-Casella, “Concerned Citizens of Dalton” group, town elder Don Mooney. However, this blatant attempt to influence the decision making of the town Board of Selectmen by improper gifting was quickly walked back by Mr. Casella, once the media reported on it.

Since then, we’ve seen the Town of Whitefield, ground zero for the routing of Casella garbage truck traffic to the proposed landfill site, vote nearly unanimously to formally oppose the landfill project, via town warrant, in March, 2020. Soon after, the Town of Sugar Hill Board of Selectmen followed suit, sending a letter of opposition to Governor Sununu in support of Whitefield’s formal opposition. March 2020 also saw the passage of HB1319 (HB177’s predecessor) in the New Hampshire House by a vote of 189-123, which sought to create a 2-mile setback for siting a landfill next to a New Hampshire State Park. Unfortunately, that effort died before it could reach the New Hampshire Senate and the Governor’s desk, due to the outbreak of Covid.

Following the submittal of Casella’s wetlands permit application to NHDES Wetlands Bureau in August, 2020, the Ammonoosuc River Local Advisory Committee and the Bethlehem Conservation Commission both weighed in against the application, due to the significant environmental impacts to the surrounding wetlands and neighboring bodies of water, particularly the Ammonoosuc River and Forest Lake. Subsequently, the Whitefield, Littleton, Lisbon, Sugar Hill, and Dalton Conservation Commissions also weighed in with similar concerns and opposition. Even New Hampshire State Parks Director Phil Bryce weighed in with concerns in a letter to NHDES, citing potential adverse impacts to Forest Lake State Park regarding present and future use, noting typical landfill nuisances and how that could impact park desirability to visitors. Town meeting day in March, 2021 saw warrant articles pass in both the Towns of Littleton and Carroll, by margins of 3-1, calling for opposition to the landfill development project by citizens in each town. In 2021, letters of support for the passage of HB177, to create a 2-mile setback for siting a landfill next to a New Hampshire State Park, came from environmental conservation groups like the New Hampshire Forest Society, the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust, Sierra Club of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Lakes, Conservation Law Foundation, and Community Action Works.

Just this month, the SAU36 School Board met and discussed concerns raised by school board chair Greg Odell relative to the proposed routing of garbage trucks thru the Town of Whitefield, past the elementary school on Route 3. His valid concerns for child/parent safety, due to the influx of 50-100 trash-hauling tractor trailers and other vehicles, on an already admittedly-dangerous stretch of road, was met with derision by Casella VP Brian Oliver in a letter sent to the school board on April 5th, citing misinformation and fear mongering. This, despite the fact that the very information cited about said truck traffic routes came straight from NHDOT meeting minutes with Casella in January, 2020! It should also be noted that to date, Casella Waste Systems has refused to seek local approval from both the Towns of Dalton and Bethlehem for its landfill project. I include Bethlehem, as Casella is purposely trying to deceive NHDES by excluding the 70-acre, Lot 406-1, which encompasses Douglas Drive, the access road to the landfill, from the solid waste permit application, which is in Bethlehem. Can’t have a landfill without being able to access it!

So, as opposition mounts throughout the North Country against Casella’s proposed landfill development project next to Forest Lake State Park, response from Casella’s spokesman Joe Fusco, relative to the news of Friday’s passage of HB177 in the House, seemingly indicates that this out-of-state corporation will continue with its irresponsible plans, despite the wishes of not only the citizens and towns of the North Country, but seemingly more and more citizens, political leaders, and organizations throughout the state of New Hampshire. Casella’s tone-deafness confirms that they are simply not a good community partner. Their continued defiant stance and dismissive tone towards mounting opposition will only serve to rally even more Granite Staters against their proposed “Granite State” landfill, sited only 190 feet from one of our beloved New Hampshire State Parks. So, for now, it’s on to the Senate! I would encourage your readers to join us to get HB177 passed in the New Hampshire Senate and signed into law by Governor Sununu in order to protect all of our New Hampshire State Parks from something like this ever happening again!

Thank You!

Jon Swan

Dalton, N.H.

Founder, Save Forest Lake

#StopNorthernTrash!

Jon:

Thank you! This is a remarkably comprehensive, yet still concise report on an issue which is important in its own right. Your letter could also serve as a model for anyone wanting to use these pages to spread the word.

The Editor

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