On December 3, Mark Harlacker, the regional landfill operations manager for Moretown Landfill, Inc. (MLI), wrote to Moretown Development Review Board (DRB) chair John Riley asking that the landfill’s ongoing expansion hearings be put on hold until February.

MLI requests this continuance so that it may focus all its immediate efforts and attention on its operations at the existing site,” Harlacker wrote. “MLI anticipates that it will be prepared to continue to advance the proposed cell four project before the DRB on February 1, 2013.”

So far, the DRB has held six public hearings as it considers the landfill’s application for a conditional use permit to construct a fourth trash cell at its Route 2 location, and two more hearings are scheduled for this month.

The proposed expansion—a fourth trash cell that would be as large as the existing three cells combined—would extend the landfill’s life by 15 to 18 years. Without the 40-acre addition, the landfill will reach capacity and be forced to close this February.

In the meantime, Moretown Landfill has applied for a state permit to re-open the previously capped Cell 2 so that it can continue accepting trash. Within the past couple of days, however, it has come to the public’s attention that the landfill is facing a problem more pressing than its limited capacity.

On Tuesday, November 20, the Vermont Agency for Natural Resources (ANR) issued a Notice of Alleged Violation to Moretown Landfill, citing the facility for 12 environmental violations, including failure to control off-site odors.

According to ANR secretary Deb Markowitz, if the landfill owners can present a convincing plan for fixing the problem by Monday, December 10, the agency might be able to re-issue their permit. If not, the facility could be forced to close even sooner than February.

While Harlacker and other Moretown Landfill executives are working to redraft a plan that better demonstrates their compliance with state standards, the facility has already begun reducing its trash intake in hopes that it can remain open.

In a letter Moretown Landfill general manager Tom Badowski wrote to the Moretown Select Board last month, the landfill planned to start reducing its trash intake by 80 percent starting December 1, in order for the landfill to remain open about seven months past the projected February closing date.

If the landfill closes—in a week from now or several months from now—Moretown will lose out on the over $500,000 it receives annually from a host-town agreement it maintains with the facility. From that money, the town was able to reduce the municipal tax rate by 14 cents per dollar in the past year, and over the past 12 years the town has generated a savings reserve fund containing $858,293 as well as a capital reserve fund containing $178,218.

While all of Moretown benefits from the money the town receives from the landfill, a small contingent of residents who live near the facility suffer the consequences of strong sulfurous odors and dust created by constant truck traffic.

The residents, who call their coalition Citizens for Landfill Environmental Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR), have been regulars at the DRB hearings, speaking up about how prolonging the landfill’s life will negatively affect their own quality of life.

But the trash has to go somewhere. Moretown Landfill is only one of two landfills in the state, and if it closes, their customers will have to pay to ship their waste to farther locations.

James Dumont, a lawyer hired by two CLEAR residents to represent them in the DRB permit proceedings, responded to the landfill’s request for a continuance in the hearings.

In a letter dated Tuesday, December 5, and addressed to the DRB, Dumont argued that if the board grants the continuance, it should be so that the landfill has time to put together all of the documents it needs for the expansion project, not so that it can focus on “other things.”

So far, Badowski has said he will submit updated plans demonstrating changes to the expansion project’s access road and detention pond, but “we reminded you just prior to the receipt of Mr. Harlacker’s letter that we still lack those plans,” Dumont wrote to the DRB.

The DRB has heard—and continues to hear—both sides of the story. In response to Harlacker’s request that the Cell 4 expansion hearings be put on hold so that the landfill can work on securing its state permit to re-open Cell 2, Riley responded that the DRB can only take action as a convened public board. The board will discuss Harlacker’s request at the next hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the Moretown Town Hall.