Organic Consumers Association

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Outrage Over Landfill Cap Proposal in Portsmouth

 A recent public hearing on the capping of the former town dump with subsoil that has levels of naturally occurring arsenic that exceed current state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) standards started off innocently enough, with presentations by DEM staffers and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, the contracted engineering firm for the project, but quickly devolved into a one-sided shouting match where residents told scientists, engineers and lawyers that they didn't know whereof they spoke.

After the initial presentations by DEM's Mark Dennen, who addressed the regulatory process behind the project, and Tim O' Connor from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, who addressed the engineering aspects of the project, the meeting was supposed to go to a question-and-answer session and then to a period of recorded public comment, but turned into a barrage of angry rants, and few questions, from the attendees.

Showing a lack of decorum and adherence to protocol, the crowd demanded answers concerning the arsenic concentration in the proposed fill, but Dennen and O'Connor were barely given time to address any question before the next angry rant was launched at them. The only time the crowd refrained from interrupting not only their answers, but other residents' queries, was when members of the Town Council spoke.

Council members were perturbed by a perceived lack of notice, not only to the public but also to town officials, concerning the variance. Dennen admitted that DEM's public relations on the matter could have been better, but, "This is not a new plan for the site. It is simply a request for a variance in an already approved plan," he said.

The original site investigation began in 2002. At which time, residents of the neighborhood in question were informed of the action by certified mail. The proposed remedy was approved by DEM in 2006, and by the town last August. Prior to Tuesday night's meeting, members of the Town Council were informed, in writing, of the proposed variance. The last public meeting held on the matter was in September 2010, at the Portsmouth Public Library, which not one town official attended, according to the DEM.

In fact, DEM wasn't even required to present the variance for public comment, but in a show of good faith, did so anyway.

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