On Tuesday, November 13, the Moretown Development Review Board hosted the fifth in a series of public hearings that must take place before the board can close its hearings on Moretown Landfill’s conditional use permit to construct a fourth trash cell at its Route 2 location.

The fourth trash cell—which would be as large as the existing three cells combined—would extend landfill’s life by 15 to 18 years. Without the 40-acre addition—and without reopening Cell 2 (another permit the landfill is currently pursuing)—the landfill will reach capacity and be forced to close this February. If it does, Moretown will lose out on the over $500,000 it receives annually from a host-town agreement it maintains with the facility.

So far, the permitting process has encountered a lot of opposition from residents who live within a mile of the landfill and who worry about how the expansion project will increase the traffic, noise and stench that they claim infringes upon their lives almost daily.

Previous hearings have addressed issues of groundwater quality and blasting associated with cell construction, but last Tuesday’s hearing addressed perhaps the most noticeable impact of the landfill upon its neighbors: odor.

At the start of the hearing, Brian Beaudoin of Sanborn, Head & Associates, Inc., a consultant for the landfill, gave a presentation about the types of gases associated with landfills as well as the systems in place to collect and neutralize those gases.

According to Beaudoin, gases in landfills arise from three main categories: leachate, municipal solid waste and biosolids. The most common gas produced is methane, which is odorless. “What you smell are the sulfurs,” Beaudoin said.

To control odors, landfills have gas collection systems over their cells that create a constant vacuum, and the gases gathered from this vacuum are then channeled to a combustion device. It is possible for the collection and the combustion systems to fail, but when they do “it doesn’t take long to recognize the problem and get it fixed,” Moretown Landfill general manager Tom Badowski said.

According to federal gas monitoring programs, landfills are required to keep on-site gas levels below 500 ppm (parts per million), but Badowski announced that Moretown Landfill upholds more “stringent standards”; the facility aims to always be below 50 ppm. “That’s typically when you notice an odor,” he explained.

But is Moretown Landfill able to uphold these more stringent standards? “It seems to me that, over time, the landfill has been fined for exceeding odor limits,” Moretown Development Review Board chair John Riley said.

“We’ve received violations, but we’ve never been fined,” Badowski replied.

But the landfill has also received numerous odor complaints from neighbors. The complaints are directed to an odor response program mandated by the Vermont Solid Waste Management Division in August of 2011 and currently run by the environmental engineering firm, Weston & Sampson.

When the program was first created, Weston & Sampson sent out a letter to those living within a .75-mile radius of the landfill—about 75 residents—explaining how they can report offsite odors by calling or emailing a 24-hour hotline.

Once a complaint is received, Weston & Sampson representatives will visit the location it was made from and assess the intensity of the odor as well as its most probable source. Unless a complaint is made after 8 p.m., representatives will respond almost immediately, and their average response time is 20 minutes.

Many residents have taken advantage of the odor response program, and since August of 2011, Weston & Sampson has logged 181 complaints. While residents appreciate the diligence of the employees who respond to their complaints, they question as to how these complaints translate into remedial action at the landfill site.

“This is all very educational,” one resident said, in response to a particularly detailed diagram about gas collection systems, “but, really, whatever you’re doing there doesn’t work,” she said. “We have odor complaints every day.”

“Landfills are always going to have an odor,” Beaudoin conceded, but the facility does all it can “to best respond to issues as they arise,” he said.

But if Cell 4 goes in, “is it going to get worse?” one resident asked. According to Badowski, Cell 4’s lower elevation and more isolated location will likely result in fewer odor issues, but residents argued that as the cell fills up over the years, lower elevation will no longer be a controlling factor.

Despite whatever advances may have been made in modern technology, “right now, [the odor issue] is no better than it was seven years ago,” one resident said. The question is, if Cell 4 is approved, “do we have 18 more years of this?” she asked.

The next DRB hearing regarding Moretown Landfill is scheduled for Tuesday, November 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Moretown Town Hall. The hearing’s subject is yet to be determined, but it will likely address issues of dust and air pollution.