Proponents say a 51-acre expansion of Vermont’s sole remaining open landfill is key to the state’s waste management. Opponents it poses significant environmental and public health risks. After months of heated public meetings, the proposal to expand the Coventry landfill, which has divided locals and sparked backlash across the Canadian border, is set for a hearing before the District Seven Environmental Commission this week that will determine whether the project can continue.

Landfill owner Casella Waste Systems has said the highly engineered, double-lined Coventry landfill is integral to Vermont’s solid waste disposal. Without an expansion, the landfill will fill up in four to five years. “Feelings or biases aside, the inescapable fact is that a modern landfill like the Coventry landfill — highly regulated, highly engineered, relentlessly permitted — currently plays an important role in how our Vermont manages the waste it produces and is a crucial part of the infrastructure necessary to manage public and environmental health,” Joe Fusco, vice president of Casella, said in an interview this fall.

With the new acreage, the landfill could keep accepting trash for an additional 22 years. The town of Coventry, which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for hosting the landfill, has written a letter in support of the expansion, referring to the landfill operator as “a responsible community partner.”

A key state agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, gave the go-ahead for the expansion of the landfill in Coventry this fall after a lengthy review process. Cathy Jamieson, manager of the DEC’s solid waste program, said in an interview that DEC granted Casella a final certification for the expansion because the proposal complied with all of the state’s solid waste rules.

But the expansion has faced steep opposition from some nearby residents, neighboring Canadians and multiple conservation groups concerned about the landfill’s location in the far northern part of the state near Lake Memphremagog — a border-straddling source of drinking water.

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