LEOMINSTER - A bill that would have removed 85 acres from Leominster State Forest to expand a landfill did not make it out of committee before the Legislature ended its 2017-18 session.

The measure was a hot topic the last couple of weeks of July, and many residents shared their opposition on social media and with state Rep. Natalie Higgins.

In an Aug. 1 Facebook post, Ms. Higgins, D-Leominster, said more than 100 Leominster residents had expressed concern about House Bill 4677 in calls, emails and social media messages.

The bill was in the House Ways & Means Committee, but no vote was taken by July 31, the end of the legislative session.

“Thanks to all of your advocacy, the bill stalled in the Ways & Means Committee, and will not move forward this session,” Ms. Higgins stated last week. “This means the process will slow down and the interested parties can have a real discussion about the concerns that have been raised this Fall.”

What was originally House Bill 4568, and became H.4677, would have removed 85 acres in Westminster from Leominster State Forest to expand the Waste Management landfill on Route 31 in Westminster.

The landfill, where trash from Westminster and Fitchburg residents is dumped, is surrounded by the state forest. According to local officials, it is nearing its capacity.

The legislation, filed earlier this year, could have allowed the landfill to expand and stay open beyond its estimated closure in 2024. In exchange, according to a Facebook post last month by Fitchburg City Councilor Sam Squailia, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation would have received “various parcels of land acquisitions from Fitchburg, Westminster and Waste Management totaling 174 acres of forest land adjacent to or within Leominster State Forest.”

The 85 acres would extend the landfill’s life by about a decade, according to Ms. Squailia, from 2024 to 2034.

Leominster State Forest consists of about 4,300 acres in Leominster, Fitchburg, Westminster, Princeton and Sterling.

As the clock ticked to July 31, organizations began lining up against H.4677, worried about the environmental impact and the process being used for the land transfer.

Whitney Hatch, chairman of the DCR Stewardship Council, wrote in a July 18 letter to the Ways & Means Committee that the bill “would destroy 85 acres of contiguous public forest, including a favorite hiking trail," and that using it for landfill would be "wholly incompatible with the reason that the citizens of the Commonwealth initially purchased the forest land in the first place.”

A July 26 joint letter from the Nature Conservancy and the Trustees of Reservations to the Ways & Means Committee stated that H.4677 “attempts to bypass” the state’s procedures for conserving land.

Since 1998, the letter stated, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has had a "no net loss" policy that calls for compensatory mitigation when land is taken out of conservation use. The letter said that without EOEA review or an agreement in place before the enactment of the legislation, DCR would have no guarantee of a good conservation outcome.

Ten organizations, including the Conservation Law Foundation, the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Massachusetts Forest and Park Friends Network, in their own July 26 letter to the Ways & Means Committee, called the bill “dangerous” and said H.4677 “has been quietly ushered through the legislative process yet has statewide, precedent-setting impacts” for the removal of conservation protection on state-owned land.

As for the environmental impact, the letter stated, “According to monitoring by the landfill operators, releases of chemicals that are probable carcinogens have been detected in the groundwater around the landfill already. This, coupled with toxic emissions into the air, will have a negative impact on the health and environment of Westminster, Fitchburg, and Leominster, a city with a majority of its communities designated as environmental justice block groups." It noted the landfill expansion "would be the largest footprint expansion of a landfill currently proposed in New England.”

The measure could be refiled when the 2019-20 legislative session starts in January.