Montreal

Vermont dump to no longer discharge treated waste water into Lake Memphremagog

The Coventry dump in Newport, Vt. has been given the green light on its 21-hectare expansion, but will no longer handle leachate — the liquid that percolates from trash in landfills — at the Newport treatment facility on the lake.

Eastern Townships environmental group lost bid to stop expansion of Coventry Landfill

Residents and officials on both sides of the border expressed concern about the impact on Lake Memphremagog of the treated leachate discharged into it at the Coventry Landfill site. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

Members of a Quebec environmental conservation group are celebrating that the Coventry Landfill in Vermont will no longer be allowed to discharge "garbage juice" from its treatment plant into Lake Memphremagog.

The dump in Newport, Vt., has been given the green light to proceed with a planned 21-hectare expansion, but it will no longer handle leachate — the liquid that percolates from trash in the landfill — at the Newport treatment plant on the lake.

"Our goal was to close that site," said Robert Benoit, president of Memphremagog Conservation — a non-profit group fighting for the protection of the lake.

Lake Memphremagog straddles the Canada-U.S. border and is the primary source of drinking water for 170,000 residents of the Eastern Townships.

Benoit was among the delegates from Quebec — including the regional county municipality, the cities of Magog and Sherbrooke, and representatives of both the provincial and federal governments— who travelled to Vermont in January to try to persuade the state's land use and development commission to deny the expansion permit.

Workers with Casella Waste System do maintenance work on water pipes that collect leachate from the Coventry Landfill, near Newport. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

Memphremagog Conservation has been working in partnership with an American environmental group to thwart that expansion, ever since it was revealed that the state of Vermont had stopped monitoring the impact of leachate on the lake in 2009.

"We have no scientific proof that what is going in the lake is good quality," Benoit told CBC Radio's Quebec AM Thursday. "We must be much more vigilant in knowing what is going in and what is coming out."

He said for years, the landfill has been operating on the "dilution is the solution to pollution theory," by pumping the leachate into the lake. Conservation Memphremagog is worried about the bio-accumulation of potentially toxic chemicals, Benoit said.

"Let's not panic: the water at this point is all right — but it's the accumulation," Benoit said. "It all starts very slowly. You don't see it coming up, and eventually you wake up, and you have a monster in your hand."

He said ironically, Townshippers who live on the lake are subject to strict rules about their septic systems, yet an American company was able to discard leachate into the same water for years.

Lake Memphremagog, as seen from the shore of Eagle Point in Derby, Vt. in 2010, is the main source of drinking water for the city of Sherbrooke. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

Without the expansion, the landfill is about three years from reaching capacity, but should now have the space to accept trash for another 25 years.

Anyone can appeal the environmental commission's decision within 30 days.

With files from Quebec AM

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