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Montpelier to Limit Amount of Leachate It Processes

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Image from Vecteezy.
The Montpelier City Council voted to halve the amount of leachate allowed to be processed at the city’s wastewater treatment plant last week. Leachate is contaminated liquid that has percolated through a solid waste disposal site, which Montpelier’s waste water treatment plant has been processing from the Coventry landfill, run by Casella Waste Systems, for years. The council voted during its March 27 meeting to adopt a motion by Councilor Tim Heney to limit the amount of leachate the city accepts at the water treatment plant from two truckloads a day to one. They also required notification when repairs to the system in Coventry that tests and filters PFAS in leachate are completed.  

Most of the trash in Vermont goes to the Coventry landfill, and Montpelier is the only remaining municipality in the state still processing landfill leachate after it became known that leachate has concentrated levels of PFAS in it.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals”
because they never break down, and are harmful to human health according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A truckload a day equals about 100 gallons, Heney said. 

Councilor Cary Brown asked what would be accomplished by reducing the acceptance rate from two trucks to one. Heney said it is to protect the water as much as possible from contamination. 

“The more I read about it — this is really bad stuff,” Heney said, describing how the chemicals are still being dumped into the Winooski and winding up in Lake Champlain. He further said he would like to limit how it affects a lot of Vermonters and “a lot of our neighbors.”

Heney said he wants to “confirm that the Montpelier Water Resource Recovery Facility will not accept leachate from the Coventry landfill until Casella provides a statement that its filtration facility for PFAS is operating to standards, and tests of the leachate are within the acceptable range(s).” There are five categories within the PFAS, which city councilors want to see reduced to a target of 70 parts per trillion, but currently it is coming in at 80 parts per trillion, according to City Manager Bill Fraser. Of the five categories, one has been reduced to 65, while the others are in the upper 90s, Fraser said, which aggregates to around 80.

Mayor Jack McCullough observed that Montpelier is “like the lynchpin of the entire state” on this matter because if Montpelier refuses to accept the leachate, then Casella will simply take it to New Hampshire or Plattsburgh where there are no requirements to reduce PFAS. 

“If we stop taking it, that divests the department of jurisdiction to regulate, and so I don’t think we want that to happen either,” he said.

Fraser pointed out that plans are underway to get state funding for an improved water treatment system, so it is important to know how much the city plans to accept. “If we don’t take it (leachate), they don’t have to do anything (to help financially with treating it),” he said. “We are at the point of design for our wastewater plant.”

Council member Lauren Hierl said she is frustrated because there are technologies like reverse osmosis, which removes more chemicals, but is not being used in this case. 

Proclamation of Appreciation

The council will be issuing a proclamation of appreciation for Dona Bate, who served on the council for 10 years. Mayor Jack McCullough said she was a great city council member who always did her homework. “She will be missed,” he said. Since Bate could not attend in person, they will wait until she can to present her with the proclamation.

Appointments

Tim Senter was appointed to the Capital Complex Commission, Dona Bate to the Montpelier Transportation Infrastructure Committee, and Linda Young to the Tree Board.

Presentations

Following discussion on leachate and other matters, the City Council heard from the Cemetery Commission, the Department of Public Works, and the Assistant City Manager. First, Jake Brown and Patrick Healy presented a report on the scope of work done by the Cemetery Commission. Then, Kurt Motyka, director of the Department of Public Works presented, followed by Kelly Murphy, assistant city manager.

Cemetery Commission

The Green Mount Cemetery was created with a donation of $1,000 in 1853 from Calvin Keith, Healy said. The cemetery was to be enclosed and planted thickly with trees — with a certain portion reserved for the poor. It is now run by five commissioners, a cemetery technician (who does mowing, plowing, and monument maintenance), and a seasonal employee who helps out in summer months. But the main workforce comes from the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury. Healy said those six inmates plus a supervisor are crucial to keeping the cemetery in shape while keeping the budget manageable. They help with realigning the markers, cleaning monuments, and maintaining electric fences to keep bears away from beehives. 

Using the corrections crew saves $200,000 per year, Healy said. However, even with the savings, the commission can no longer keep the “country club look.” It takes 250 labor hours to mow once, he said.

Healy described how the burial practices have changed since the 1980s. The cremation rate is almost 80% in Vermont, he said, which requires less space in cemeteries. But Green Mount still uses the marble vault at its entrance to store 40 to 50 bodies when the country cemeteries are unable to perform burials in winter. Additionally, “green burials” — in which harsh embalming chemicals are not used — are more prevalent. 

Burial plots currently cost $1,500 for a single grave to a Montpelier resident and $2,400 for an out-of-state resident.

Department of Public Works

Montpelier has four miles of pipe distribution, 20 bridges — 15 vehicle bridges and five pedestrian bridges — according to Motyka. It also has 23 miles of sidewalks, including 15 miles of concrete and 8 miles of asphalt, 286 street lights, and seven traffic signals.

Maintaining these infrastructure items includes paving, painting street markings, winter maintenance, prepping streets for state projects such as removing asphalt and adjusting manhole covers, hydrant flushing, sewer maintenance, and more. Additionally, the department has mechanics who maintain vehicles used by all city departments, including fuel management. The department also oversees the water treatment at Berlin Pond, tends to ice jams around the city and monitors the storm runoff overflow management.

McCullough noted he has seen several postings on Front Porch Forum concerning the condition of the Granite Street Bridge. Motyka said it is the only bridge that has a wooden deck, so they need to put a layer of asphalt on it so it can withstand plowing. However, the asphalt doesn’t adhere well to the wood, which causes potholes. This is more of a rideability concern than a structural/safety concern, Motyka said. However, he added, DPW plans to patch the holes.

Strategic Plan Infrastructure Overview

Assistant City Manager Kelly Murphy presented the fiscal year 2023–25 strategic plan. The plan includes projects that would be ideal to take on at some point, but that are not currently in the budget. One of the goals is to improve the paving in the city, but Motyka said there currently isn’t enough money in the budget to reach the ideal goal. Other items include improved American with Disabilities Act projects, rebuilding City Hall, the police department, and fire department. The plan may be seen at montpeliervt.portal.civicclerk.com/event/5582/files/attachment/6523

Councilor Pelin Kohn said she would like to see dollar figures attached to proposed projects to help her decide which ones she would prioritize. Fraser said as projects come forward in the form of proposals, they will have dollar figures attached.

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