DES supports SB 61 to reexamine landfill setback regulation, opposes all other landfill related bills


Monitor Staff

Published: 04-05-2023 4:39 PM

Among the proposed landfill safety legislation circulating through the State House this session, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services supports only one bill.

Senate Bill 61, which has earned DES’s support, gives the agency the opportunity to participate in a rule-making process to revise the outdated siting regulations, with an opportunity for the public to offer their input. It doesn’t enforce any particular setback regulations for landfill siting.

Although House Bill 56 is similar, it proposes specific setback distances for landfills to be located farther away from water bodies to prevent leachate contamination of water sources.

“The bill that DES supports is SB 61, as currently amended,” DES assistant commissioner Mark Sanborn said Tuesday during a Senate hearing on House Bill 56. “If asked, DES would oppose all of the other bills on this subject.”

SB 61 directs the DES to take a closer look at its existing rules governing setbacks for newly sited landfills from surface water bodies. The bill proposes to reexamine these rules to see if they are still effective in protecting the safety and well-being of local communities and preventing groundwater contamination.

“It gives a clean rulemaking process and it provides funding to do a study,” said Sanborn.

Michael Wimsatt, director of the waste management division at DES, expressed concerns that some regulation changes may be “unnecessarily restrictive” and potentially impact the future availability of landfill sites.

HB 56 would change the current regulations by requiring landfill operators to hire hydrogeologists at their own expense to survey geological patterns such as soil type at the intended location to determine site-specific setback requirements, as opposed to the current 200-foot setback. The new setback distance would need to be sufficient enough to prevent any contaminated groundwater from reaching water sources within five years.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Nora Bosworth, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation’s zero waste project, has expressed support for HB 56, calling it “a common sense and necessary measure that will ensure that new landfills are sited in appropriate locations where they will not threaten surface waters and ultimately, our residents.”

During the hearing, DES officials raised several issues related to HB 56, including the way groundwater seepage would be calculated.

“We believe that it will very likely result in erroneously high estimates of overall site-wide seepage velocity and would not be reflective of the site at large,” said Wimsatt.

In contrast, SB 61 provides the DES to seek input from an independent contractor to evaluate and review the existing siting regulations, which can be particularly advantageous for the DES’s solid waste management division, which is currently understaffed.

Bosworth explained that site-specific setbacks are needed because landfill liner systems have limited lifespans and can eventually break down and leak.

“The bill [HB 56] will direct landfill development to suitable locations where groundwater does not quickly move and interact with nearby water bodies,” said Bosworth.