City officials debate the future of the North Meadows landfill
June 09, 2009
Peter Egan, director of environmental affairs and development for the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, stood at the eastern edge of Hartford's North Meadows landfill this week, overlooking the tall trees lining the Connecticut River, and recalled another day on this spot in 1997 before the landfill was closed at the end of last year.
Now the area is disrupted with the construction associated with capping the landfill under a layer of impermeable plastic and soil, but then it was planted in grass.
"You can't even hear I-91 here," said Egan. "When this was all grass you would stand here and look up over that slope and if you didn't see the buildings [downtown] you'd think you were in Nebraska, just looking at green fields."
It will be grass again when capping is completed in 2011, and it's true that the mountain of trash, dating back to 1940 and covering about 80 acres, conveys a wonderful sense of isolation when you're on top, at an elevation of about 140 feet.
But I was hard-pressed to see the comparison Hartford Courant columnist Rick Green made recently between the buildings of downtown Hartford rising beyond the interstate highway and the Grand Teton Mountains soaring from the Snake River plain in northwestern Wyoming's Jackson Hole. Nebraska, O.K. One of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world, not so much.
Nevertheless Mayor Eddie Perez and Hartford's City Council have begun to ponder what to do with the landmark in the North End that was for so many years an affront to the senses. Councilman Luis Cotto is heading a task force discussing whether the land should be devoted to hiking trails, greenhouses or a venue for outdoor concerts, among other ideas. He'll hold at least two public hearings in the coming months and has scheduled a sit-down with a well-known consultant concerning what other cities have done with their reclaimed landfills.
Cotto said the most ambitious plan he's heard for Hartford's trash mountain is to devote it to a renewable energy project, generating electricity by either solar or wind power, but that most thoughts run more along the lines of a BMX racetrack or Hartford's highest-elevation picnic area. As Cotto points out, when the decision concerning what to do with the landfill is made, probably in 2012, Hartford could have a different mayor and city council.
"We're laying the groundwork, not making a final decision," said Cotto.
For their part, CRRA leans toward leaving the reclaimed landfill to the grasses and birds with trails for nature lovers. But it will support whatever the city wants to do with the land, as long as it doesn't interfere with their responsibility for at least the next 30 years to maintain the infrastructure collecting the methane gas generated by the bacteria eating the rotting garbage that lies at the heart of this mountain. It will cost them about $17 million over the next three decades.
The nonprofit quasi-public CRRA is spending another $27 million to close down the landfill, bringing the total cost to about $45 million, which they will collect from the 70 member towns that sent their garbage to CRRA for its generating plant on Murphy Road.
There are some 77 wells punched into the former landfill to collect the methane gas into a system of pipes where it is compressed to fuel two converted diesel engines that generate enough electricity to power 1,500 homes every year. And it's all done virtually in silence.
"I agree it's quiet up here," said Cotto. "For a little city boy like myself who grew up on Vine and Mather that's huge. I've never been anywhere you have this sort of solitude."