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Debate continues over expanding Putnam ash landfill

The operator of an ash landfill in the state’s northeast corner wants to expand the facility.

Wheelabrator is looking to take in more ash from trash-burning plants across Connecticut, but its proposal has drawn pushback from environmentalists.

During a public hearing Wednesday, Wheelabrator said it wants to roughly double the size of its current ash landfill in Putnam, adding about 68 acres for disposal.

That ash comes from trash-to-energy facilities in several cities, including Hartford, Bridgeport and Westchester, New York.

The Putnam ash landfill takes in about 1,500 to 2,000 tons of ash per day.

The site opened in 1999 and is now nearing capacity and needs expansion, according to public hearing testimony provided by Wheelabrator. The company said the expansion would allow for enough capacity to store ash residue from trash-burning plants for three decades.

“We’re currently Connecticut’s only active double synthetic-lined landfill,” said Don Musial with Wheelabrator. “The primary facility purpose is really providing the long-term ash disposal needs for resource recovery serving Connecticut.”

But environmentalists said expanding the ash landfill could pose a contamination risk to nearby land and water.

“This expansion is bad for the environment and the water supply of the surrounding area,” said Ann Gadwah with the Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club. “And puts another unjust burden on the people and the area of this state.”

While environmentalists expressed concern about the project, some in Putman, including Mayor Barney Seney, said they supported the proposal to grow the ash disposal site.

Seney said that since Wheelabrator opened the landfill, it’s helped to boost town finances.

“Over the last 20 years, we were able to stabilize our tax rate and make the necessary repairs and capital projects that we’ve been moving forward,” Seney said. “We just built a new municipal complex where a significant amount of the cost of the complex came from money from Wheelabrator that we put aside for capital projects.”

An evidentiary hearing on the ash landfill expansion is scheduled with state officials Monday.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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