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Salisbury Says Goodbye To Vermont's Last Town Dump

A dump truck dumping trash
Howard Weiss-Tisman
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VPR
A Salisbury town dump truck unloads some household garbage into the town's landfill. The landfill closed Sept. 1 because it was no longer economically viable to keep it open.

Back in the day communities all over Vermont had their own town dump, basically holes in the ground where people could just get rid of whatever garbage they were able to haul over.

But the politics and the economics of solid waste have changed — and Vermont's last unlined landfill, in Salisbury, closed on Sept. 1.

On one of the last weekends before the dump closed, people drove up with hatchbacks filled with bagged garbage that they paid $4.50 to get rid of. There were trucks with construction waste that were driven down to the pit.

Salisbury's landfill manager Sid Hutchins was still explaining to people how the upcoming closure was all supposed to work out and answering questions about where they would bring waste going forward.

A man stands next to a pickup truck with trash in it
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
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Landfill manager Sid Hutchins tosses a bag of trash onto a town truck. Hutchins said modern environmental regulations restrict what the town can put into the unlined landfill.

The Salisbury landfill used to be a moneymaker, and people used to come out from across Addison County to get rid of their trash here. Over the years, profits from the dump helped build a new school and went toward the town's highway equipment. 

But those days, Hutchins said, are long gone.

"There's so much stuff we can't take down there no more," Hutchins said. "That's where we made our money. ... Things are bad. And the recycling of course, that's a money-losing game there. I got two, three people working in that trailer over there for nothing. Yup, so I guess it's time to go.”

It took about three years to get enough support to close the dump. There were two town hearings, and then on Town Meeting Day this year Salisbury voted overwhelmingly to shut it down on Sept. 1. 

But still, not everyone's happy.

Two men stand outside the Salisbury dump
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
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VPR
Fred Little, left, gets his prepaid card punched by Sid Hutchins at the dump. Little said he voted against closing the dump and he thinks people will end up paying more to get rid of their trash.

"I think it's pretty sad they're closing the dump five years early," said Fred Little, adding that he voted against the move at town meeting.

Little said a lot of people in town did not understand that they were voting to close the landfill. He said guys like him will now end up spending a lot more to unload their garbage and construction waste.

"It's a good resource for us to go," Little said. "Now we're going to get it put right to us on cost. It's like, it's really tough."

"Ours is the last one. So it's the end of an era for the state. It's the end of an era for Salisbury." — Pedie O'Brien, Salisbury selectboard member

According to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, there were probably more than 200 town dumps back in the 1940s and '50s. Today Vermont has one modern lined landfill in operation, located in Coventry.

But as far as those town-run, unlined dumps went, Salisbury was the only one left.

"Ours is the last one," said Salisbury selectboard member Pedie O'Brien. "So it's the end of an era for the state. It's the end of an era for Salisbury."

A spokesperson from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources said the state didn't force the landfill's closure; environmentally, the dump actually hadn't been faring too poorly. Water runoff is monitored, and O'Brien said the town probably could have let it go another few years.

But recycling costs are up and people have more options, so the landfill wasn't taking in as much. According to O'Brien, the town has been losing $30,000 and $40,000 a year. 

A woman holds up a vase
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
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Sally Dwyer said she visits the landfill every Saturday to see what kind of treasures she can find in the Sharing Shed.

And, O'Brien said, things have also just changed in Salisbury.

"There are a lot of young new people that have moved into town," said O’Brien. "And, you know, both people in the family work, they have children, and so they decided it's easier for curbside pickup. And, it's kind of bittersweet. This is a really community gathering place."

The Salisbury dump was the place to gather signatures when running for town office; it's where both locals and the summer crowd from nearby Lake Dunmore caught up on town and nationwide politics.

Jackie Webster lives on Long Island and said she's been coming up here during the summer for most of her life.

"When I come to the lake, I love making the trips to the landfill. I can't even call it a dump. I have to call it a landfill," Webster said, as she emptied out her recycling bin. “Because this is the most beautiful landfill, or dump, I've ever seen. Because it's so — with the lake crowd and the people that are here, it's a lot of people, a lot of out-of-towners that love this place, you know.”

The town will try to keep the recycling center open for now. They've hired a hauler who will come out here on Saturday mornings and charge people by the bag, but the dump will be chained off.

The selectboard said they'll give it a year to see how much activity remains with the landfill closed.

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