The view from the top of the dump that towers over Hartford's North Meadows was spectacular Tuesday, aside from the cold northwest gale blowing up sand, plastic bags and paper trash, and the occasional loud whump of a propane cannon used to scare off the birds.
A line of hills stretched to the northeast. The light towers at Rentschler Field peeked over the trees across the Connecticut River. Traffic snaked south along I-91 into the gleaming Hartford skyline.
In a few years, it might be a more pleasant experience.
The landfill closes today, and the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, which began leasing the dump from the city in 1982, will take in its last truckloads of trash.
The 138-foot-high hill contains nearly 10 million cubic yards of municipal waste from CRRA's 70 member towns, and ash from the agency's trash-burning power plant in the South Meadows.
The CRRA already has covered some of the 96-acre site with an impermeable cap of thick plastic layered with sand and soil, to be topped with grass. The whole mound should be covered for good by 2011, an effort meant to keep pollutants from escaping the site.
After that, what the city does with the land is up for discussion.
"It's like the ugly duckling turning into a swan," said Sarah Barr, the city's communications director. Future uses will likely be passive recreation, such as hiking trails and bird-watching, she said.
Some have suggested placing solar panels on the site to generate electricity.
"I think anything that is green, anything that is cost-effective and anything that is going to enhance it for the residents of Hartford and visitors to the city" would be good, Barr said.
On Tuesday, CRRA senior engineer David Bodendorf stood atop the landfill, amid stacks of galvanized pipe, and explained how the cap works.
A pair of bulldozers pushed blowing piles of trash as a flock of starlings soared around hummocks of dirt. Large flocks of crows and other birds have been a problem for the site's neighbors. A propane cannon randomly booms to shoo them away.
Gas pipes poke up here and there. A facility at the base of the landfill pumps enough methane to generate electricity for 1,500 to 2,000 homes.
The methane may increase as the hill is capped, but within a few years it's likely to decline to the point where it's no longer feasible to use it to generate electricity. Bodendorf said the gas would then have to be burned off.
A system of culverts and swales directs water off the hill and into a sewer system. Wells around the facility monitor groundwater quality.
The CRRA expects to spend about $27 million to finish the cap and another $17 million to monitor and maintain the site over the next 30 years.
"We're very happy that the landfill is finally closing," said Mark Mitchell, director of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice. "Some of the old-timers remember when it used to be a depression in the ground; now it's grown into a mountain."
Mitchell's group has been trying to get CRRA to close the landfill for more than 13 years. For now, the closing will mean less dust and odors, and fewer large trucks rumbling through the area. He said conditions at the landfill "have significantly improved" in recent years.
But his group is concerned the site will need monitoring for a much longer time, and he said nearby residents are worried about the lingering health effects of landfill gases.
As of Thursday, municipal trash that can't be burned will be trucked to a private landfill in Chicopee, Mass. Ash residue from the South Meadows plant will be sent to a private landfill in Putnam.
CRRA is looking at a location in Franklin for a possible new ash landfill and expects to complete a study of the site in 2009.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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