By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
ASHLAND – Voters attending a deliberative session last Saturday put an effective halt for now to the town’s plans for constructing a $135 million waste-to-energy facility.
During the deliberative session for the SB-2 town, voters passed warrant 15 on the ballot for March 12; it will read the sum of $1, not $135 million. It passed 41-29, said Town Clerk Pat Tucker.
The revenue bond vote on the ballot, which still requires a three-fifths vote to construct, is now just $1. The facility was planned to be built on town-owned land near the Pemigewasset River and I-93 near its wastewater treatment plant.
Town Manager Frederick Welch said, “We won’t stop discussing, researching and talking about this,” though effectively with $1, he said he wasn’t about to be hiring anyone right now even if the article does pass.”
“I think there was some misinformation. People don’t understand,” Welch said. He said there should have been additional studies the town didn’t have the money for.
The town will be looking for grants to do those studies.
Welch said the town is now part of a 19-town consortium and it costs Ashland alone about $100,000 a year to handle its trash.
Ashland and members of the consortium now take their trash to North Country Environmental Services Landfill (NCES) in Bethlehem owned by Casella.
Welch said he expected the Bethlehem site to be closed by 2027, leaving the consortium no place to bring their trash, but others said that is not necessarily the case.
The Department of Environmental Services said the NCES Bethlehem permit allows it to accept waste through the end of 2026.
A statement from DES said the North Country Environmental Services Landfill (NCES) in Bethlehem has not approached them to request additional capacity. “If NCES was to submit a permit application to expand the NCES landfill, NH DES would consider the application in accordance with New Hampshire solid waste state and rules.”
Jeff Weld, director of communications for Casella, said the North Country Environmental Services Landfill (NCES), which provides disposal capacity to more than 60,000 residential and commercial customers across nearly 200 communities in New Hampshire, has not been ordered to close.
“The permitted capacity in its Stage VI permit is required to last through December 2026 and due to our efforts in successfully managing and preserving that permitted capacity, the facility is expected to operate well into 2027. This aligns with the approximate timeline when the Granite State Landfill is targeted to open and provide the necessary continuity of services to those customers,” Weld said.
Cole Beale, director of Conservation for the Squam Lakes Association in nearby Holderness, said he was not really surprised by the vote at the Ashland deliberative session, noting he had been to many meetings on the subject prior to the vote.
“The concern was growing,” Beale said with people feeling the matter was “rushed” and there had not been a chance to vet downside issues.
He said Joseph Mazzone of Ashland moved to change the dollar amount in the ballot question for March 12 from $135 million to $1.
The SLA is a conservation group concerned with the preservation of the Squam Lakes Watershed region. Little Squam Lake is fewer than 10 miles from the site.
While the Ashland town manager said that any plant built would face the state’s most stringent air quality standards to operate, Beale noted that there are no federal PFAS standards for air.
Beale said others were concerned about the proposed location of the plant, just south of Exit 24 of Interstate 93 and the fact that the town’s water wells are located next to the site.
Beale said the SLA wants to work with Ashland on the struggles they are facing along with other communities related to solid waste and that now things will not be moving as quickly.
Welch said if the Ashland facility was built eventually the towns in the consortium are expected to then bring their trash to Ashland where it would raise revenue, which would help local taxpayers.
The plant in Ashland would generate electricity for the municipal electric department, with any excess power to be sold to the New England power grid.
Voters had been assured that there was no tax impact for the project and that in fact due to the bond, it could actually reduce costs for projected town infrastructure projects significantly through its revenue, while also providing electricity to the town electric department.
The steam production plant would burn garbage, paper, cardboard, anything combustible.
Welch said the matter can’t be voted on again until next year.
For more information on Ashland’s proposal https://ashlandnh.org/