Conservation groups file lawsuit against Bethlehem landfill for allegedly violating Clean Water Act

By JOHN KOZIOL, Union Leader Correspondent  May 14, 2018


LITTLETON — A pair of conservation groups on Monday sued the owners/operators of a Bethlehem landfill, alleging they violated the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants, including a “likely human carcinogen” known as 1,4 dioxane, into the Ammonoosuc River without a permit.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire by the Toxics Action Center and Conservation Law Foundation, the lawsuit alleges that North Country Environmental Services (NCES) and Casella Waste Systems, its corporate parent, “discharged pollutants, including, but not limited to, contaminated groundwater, landfill leachate, iron, manganese and 1,4 dioxane” to the Ammonoosuc River via a 370-foot drainage channel.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the defendants violated the Clean Water Act by not obtaining a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit; order them to obtain the permit for any future discharges into the Ammonoosuc and to remedy, mitigate or offset “harm to the environment” detailed in the lawsuit; assess a daily civil penalty, retroactive to violations of the Clean Water Act beginning March 8, 2013; and to award the plaintiffs’ fees for the cost of litigation.

As they did some three months earlier when they sent the defendants a notice of intent to sue, representatives of the Toxics Action Center and Conservation Law Foundation announced their latest action against NCES and Casella in a press conference held on the covered pedestrian bridge in Littleton over the Ammonoosuc, several miles downstream from the landfill.

Kevin Budris, an attorney with the National Environmental Law Center of Boston who brought the lawsuit on behalf of the conservation groups, said Casella and NCES have known about the discharge of landfill pollutants into the Ammonoosuc since 2010 when they removed a significant amount of debris from the drainage channel.

“Casella must finally be held responsible” for illegal discharges, said Tom Irwin, the director of the Conservation Law Foundation New Hampshire. The pollution by Casella/NCES, he added, “is another sign that landfills are dangerous and not a sustainable solution to our waste problem.”

Jesse Delventhal-Parker, said he grew up in Bethlehem, fishing and swimming in the Ammonoosuc, but is now afraid to return there because of pollution concerns created by the landfill.

Casella, he said, “hasn’t been a good neighbor” to the Town of Bethlehem, but it could be one by heeding the repeated will of voters at a dozen town meetings to cap and close the landfill when the current host-community agreement expires in 2021.

Woody Little, a spokesman for the Toxics Action Center, said Casella is a large and profitable company that should pay for the harm it has caused.

Dean Knapton, a Littleton resident who lives along the Ammonoosuc, said the river is “the carotid artery of the North Country” that was being poisoned by the landfill.

Looking onto the river, Knapton pointed to a pair of youngsters who played amongst the rocks, saying “It’s those children right there that we’re doing it (taking action against NCES/Casella) for and all the other children.”

Earlier this year, ahead of Town Meeting where Bethlehem voters considered and ultimately defeated two petitioned articles that would have permitted the landfill to expand, a representative of Casella Waste Systems, Inc., called the threat of a lawsuit “… pure theater, produced in partnership with extremist lawyers from Massachusetts.”