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Piles Of Glass: State Regulators Say Solid Waste District In Violation Of Act 250

glass mountain
State of Vermont, Courtesy
This photo, taken last year by a state environmental inspector and released under Vermont's access to public records law, shows a pile of glass estimated to be 40 feet high, about 80 feet wide and 100 feet long.

Regulators say Vermont's largest solid waste district needed approval for disposing of crushed glass that was supposed to be recycled.

The District 4 Environmental Commission, which administers the Act 250 land use law in Chittenden County, issued a jurisdictional opinion last month saying the law applied to glass disposal sites on the waste district’s property in Williston.

The ruling is the latest development in a case involving allegations that the Chittenden Solid Waste District improperly dumped thousands of tons of glass instead of recycling it.

The Act 250 issue was raised by environmental activist John Brabant, with Vermonters for a Clean Environment. He also worked for the state’s solid waste division for many years.

Brabant brought the allegations of improper glass dumping before the Senate Natural Resources Committee last spring. He asked for the ruling on whether Chittenden Solid Waste District’s glass disposal sites were covered by Act 250, which says most major developments in the state must comply with 10 environmental criteria, from traffic impacts to water quality.

More from VPR: Vt. Senate Committee Looks At Allegations That CSWD Dumped Glass Instead Of Recycling It [May 1, 2019]

The answer: Act 250 applies. The solid waste district may have violated the land use law and now needs to get after-the-fact approval according to Rachel Lomonaco, the District 4 environmental coordinator.

"At a minimum, the storage and/or disposal of any materials at the landfill post-closure constitutes an Act 250 violation," she wrote in her opinion.

In the spring of 2018, staff from the Agency of Natural Resources inspected the district's site in Williston, observed a large pile of crushed glass, ordered the district to stop placing the material there, and then referred the case to the attorney general.

Documents obtained by VPR under the state’s access to public records law indicate that one pile of crushed glass was quite large: 80 feet wide, 100 feet long and 40 feet high. Inspectors estimated it contained about 12,000 cubic yards of crushed glass.

The district halted the controversial disposal practice after being told that it was potentially violating state solid waste law. The crushed glass is now mixed with material from a local quarry, for use in construction and road projects.

"The harm, the risk, is the loss of public confidence in all our recycling programs statewide." — John Brabant, Vermonters for a Clean Environment

The solid waste district declined to comment on the recent Act 250 ruling. But in a legal filing with the District 4 Environmental Commission, the district’s lawyer said the material was not dumped improperly but used to stabilize a bank and to control erosion, which are both permitted uses under state regulation.

Crushed glass is inert and does not pollute the groundwater or air, so there is little direct environmental impact from disposing of it, as the district is alleged to have done. 

In an interview Tuesday, Brabant with the Vermonters for a Clean Environment said the issue is about trust in the recycling system. Vermonters recycle their glass containers in good faith, he said, because they believe that the material will re-used or recycled.

“The harm, the risk, is the loss of public confidence in all our recycling programs statewide… and the public losing confidence and not participating at the level they need to if we want to keep our disposal of solid waste to a minimum,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Attorney General is continuing to review the allegations.

Rob McDougall, chief of Vermont's attorney general’s environmental protection division, said he could not comment much on the status of the case.

“It was sent over to our office as an enforcement matter, and we're reviewing it in that light,” he said. “We do civil enforcement typically here in the environmental division, and that's how we're looking at it at this time.”

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