The state's largest trash agency will proceed with plans to build an ash landfill in Franklin despite opposition from area residents, environmental groups, legislators and the governor.
Officials of the ratepayer-supported Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority said Monday that although the agency will continue to look for alternate sites, tests have confirmed that the Shetucket River area of Franklin, near the border with Windham, is the best available site in Connecticut.
The dump would be 90 to 100 acres and the buffer — the area around the dump that the agency would have to own or control — would be more than 400 acres.
Thomas Kirk, the CRRA president, said a pump test showed that in the event of a leak, the discharge would flow into the Shetucket and be dissipated without affecting water quality in the river or in the ground. A second test showed that there isn't enough water stored below the proposed site to serve as a public drinking water supply, Kirk said.
If either result was different — if there was a sufficient water supply or the discharge didn't flow to the river — the state Department of Environmental Protection would not grant a permit for the landfill, Kirk said. The Franklin location is on a DEP list of possible ash-landfill sites.
Kirk and Peter Egan, the CRRA's director of environmental affairs, said the agency will still try to negotiate a cheaper price to dispose of ash at existing landfills and would also be ready to act if Connecticut were to permit recycled ash to be used in concrete aggregate and building materials, as it is in Europe and in a few U.S. states.
But the agency plans to submit permit applications for the Franklin site to the DEP by the end of this year, and build the first 20-acre cell of the landfill, at a cost of $30 million, by late 2011 or early 2012.
Kirk said that operating its own landfill would save CRRA communities, including 70 municipalities in Greater Hartford and mid-Connecticut, $9 per ton in disposal fees. The ash residue is what's left over after garbage is burned in waste-to-energy plants. It contains heavy metals at levels below what Connecticut regulators would consider toxic waste.
Franklin residents weren't happy about the CRRA's announcement.
"They could paint a pretty picture; they could say that the buffer zone will remain open space forever; but it's still a dump, and that land is still a significant piece of the Last Green Valley," said Franklin resident Susan Allen. She belongs to Residents of the Last Green Valley, one of several groups working against the CRRA proposal. The residents, along with state officials, environmental advocates, and town leaders from Windham and Sprague, plan a protest rally at the state Capitol Wednesday.
"So they're saying that the ash dump will have no effect on the historic artifacts in the area, or the wildlife, or the drinking wells?" said Allen. "Then why is the governor against it? Why are the surrounding towns against it? Why are people who gave land to the state as gifts feeling that the state is violating its fiduciary responsibility?"
Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed legislation that would have barred the Franklin project, saying that she didn't want to take those decisions out of the hands of the regulators. But she said she "remained unconvinced" that the Franklin site was appropriate and urged the CRRA to look elsewhere. State Sen. Edith Prague, a Democrat whose district includes Franklin, has been a vocal opponent of the CRRA's Franklin project.
Kirk said that CRRA officials and its board of directors share residents' concerns "as citizens of Connecticut." But he said there isn't another location that meets agency and DEP criteria for a landfill. And he said the tipping fee that CRRA has been paying to the Wheelabrator ash landfill in Putnam since the Hartford landfill closed late in 2008 "is significantly higher" than the CRRA would pay if it had its own landfill. CRRA's contract with Wheelabrator runs to 2012, with several one-year renewal options.
Kirk said that the agency would be willing to sign a long-term agreement with Wheelabrator or another landfill if it proved to be cheaper than building its own landfill. He said that so far, that hasn't been the case.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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