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Room at the Top?

Hartford moves toward park use for landfill site with desirable view

By Brad Kane

April 11, 2011

Perhaps the best view in Hartford sits atop a pile of garbage.

From atop the closed 80-acre landfill between the Connecticut River and I-91 on Hartford’s north side, the views stretch out in all directions — there’s a picturesque scene of the downtown skyline at sunset; lush landscapes lie to the east and west; looking north, there’s Mount Tom in Massachusetts.

But anyone hoping to turn a profit from this desirable view property had better start bending the ears of Hartford city officials now, because they are leaning another way.

“At the end of the day, we decided we wanted to have as many people as possible have access to the site,” said Luis Cotto, minority leader on the Hartford City Council, who led a public study into the future of the landfill site.

Connecticut has several hundred closed waste disposal sites; some area licensed landfills and others simple historic disposal areas. Practically anything can be built on top of a closed waste area, and Connecticut developments include hardware and grocery stores, the Westport Public Library and the Comcast Theatre in Hartford. Even the Connecticut Science Center and the Connecticut Convention Center are built on an historic disposal area.

As waste disposal has gotten more concentrated, huge landfills are springing up throughout the state — only 29 active sites remain in Connecticut. When capped, these manmade mountains offer peak views and opportunities for a wide range of developments.

The 80-acre Hartford landfill is the most recent example of possible post-closure landfill development. The landfill is more than 70 years old and in its latter years became home to ash from the Mid-Connecticut Project, which burns the state’s waste for electricity.

The landfill received its last bit of ash on Dec. 31, 2008, and the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority — which leases the site from the city for $5.5 million per year — will have completed the cap on the landfill by the end of 2012.

“The waste that is under there is going to be decomposing for awhile,” CRRA spokesman Paul Nonnenmacher said.

In December, Hartford Landfill Citizens Advisory Committee submitted its recommendations to Mayor Pedro Segarra on what development should come to the site post-closure.

The proposal called for most of the 80 acres to be preserved as open space, used as a passive recreation site where visitors can enjoy the views. The remaining space should go for a solar array and an urban farm, likely growing food in greenhouses for the city’s residents.

“The guiding vision was that the space is so big that multiple items should be considered,” Cotto said.

The Hartford landfill proposals will be discussed at length in April and May, Cotto said.

Selling or leasing the land for private development was never considered, Cotto said. Some of the land may be leased for the urban farm, but the concepts call for the vast space to remain open for the public.

Private development, even housing, is not unheard of for closed landfill. Residential areas of San Francisco, for example, are built on former disposal sites.

Housing creates landfill challenges. The shifting nature of the garbage means structures have to be anchored. Decomposing garbage emits carbon dioxide and methane, the latter a significant greenhouse gas.

The methane coming out of the Hartford landfill is being harvested by New York energy company Fortistar. The methane is cleaned and burned to generate 1.2 megawatts of power that is sold to Connecticut Light & Power.

Because the landfill has 93 methane collection wells that will be in place for 20-30 years, development in the short term is restricted to what fits around those wells.

Of the closed and active landfills in Connecticut, only a few have methane collection on site, said Diane Duva, assistant director for the state Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Materials Management and Compliance Assurance. Typically, closed down sites don’t produce enough methane to make the exploratory costs worthwhile.

“The largest production of gas comes in the early stages of the landfill, and most of the landfills in Connecticut are older,” Duva said.

DEP doesn’t have any restrictions for post-closure use of a landfill, only that whatever the final plan is must be approved. Duva said land owners must be responsible but are encouraged to think broadly about the many potential uses.

Passive recreation is the typical choice, said DEP environmental analyst Dave McKeegan. The cost of building significant structures into existing landfills tends to be prohibitive for most property owners and would-be developers.

Cost of development wasn’t the driving force behind Hartford’s recommendations for its landfill. Splitting the site into various uses all benefitting the public was deemed the best option, Cotto said. That way the property can be enjoyed by whoever takes the time to climb the pile of garbage.

“You can’t underscore the beauty of the view,” Cotto said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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