The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission overwhelmingly opposes Lower Saucon Township changing its zoning to allow the IESI landfill to expand in the township.
On Thursday night, the 37-member LVPC board unanimously rejected the township’s proposed zoning changes – with one abstention.
The proposed rezoning is inconsistent with Northampton County’s comprehensive plan, according to LVPC.
The outcome of the vote, taken after 80 minutes of discussion, was no surprise. LVPC’s staff already had gone on record opposing the zoning changes.
But LVPC is only a recommending body. Lower Saucon officials who will make the final decisions are not required to take its advice.
About 25 people were in the audience at the meeting. Many were residents who oppose any expansion of the landfill. But one resident spoke in favor of that expansion, as did two IESI employees.
The rezoning was spurred by the landfill operators so they can expand.
Although called the IESI Bethlehem Landfill, it is located entirely in Lower Saucon. It is along Applebutter Road, just north of the easternmost tip of Bethlehem.
The proposed rezoning would involve nearly 140 acres on the west side of the landfill. Skyline Drive runs through the center of the proposed rezoned area.
After the vote Samuel Donato, the landfill’s manager, said a final determination has not yet been made, but IESI hopes to expand the 224-acre facility by about 50 acres.
He said it would not double in size, as some residents had claimed.
But because the landfill needs buffer areas, the amount of land purchased could be considerably more than 50 acres.
Donato said the current landfill has only 3.5 years left to operate if it cannot expand. He said an expansion would give the operation an additional 8 to 12 years.
He told the LVPC board that IESI has, or soon will have, agreements of sale with the majority of private property owners in the proposed landfill expansion area that needs to be rezoned. He estimated only a dozen homes are in that area.
Donato said his company does not yet have an application to expand the landfill before the township or the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The landfill manager showed the LVPC board large photos of the area around the landfill to make the point that Applebutter Road runs through an industrial area -- with his landfill, a power plant, a PPL switching station, an industrial park of warehouses and a nearby wastewater treatment plant.
“This is not farming, this is heavy manufacturing,” said Donato. He added no developer would build homes in that “very industrial area.”
Jay McLaughlin, who works at the landfill, said he was speaking for his fellow employees when he told the LVPC board: “We have good paying jobs at the landfill. We would like to keep our jobs. This is the best outfit I’ve ever worked for.”
He got the best laugh of the meeting when he said: “I’ve worked in this industry for 30-plus years. We’re a healthy, safe environment. No health problems, except I eat too much.”
Lower Saucon resident Dave Spirk said landfills are not great to have around, “but we’ve got to have them.” He said it has been there since 1941 and may be in the best place in the township for a landfill. He also said the IESI facility contributes $2 million to Lower Saucon’s $6.8 million annual budget. “When that landfill closes, that money goes away.”
Other residents went to the LVPC meeting to oppose the landfill’s expansion, not to address the merits of the township’s proposed rezoning to allow that expansion.
They spoke despite the fact that, at the start of the discussion, LVPC chairman Mathew Glennon explained the only issue before his board was whether the township’s proposed rezoning is consistent with LVPC’s comprehensive plan.
The residents told LVPC the existing IESI landfill is 700 to 750 feet tall and can be seen from many miles away.
“It’s literally destroyed the skyline,” said resident Bob Wells. “It will destroy the value of our homes.”
“If this expands, it is the death of that area of our township,” said resident Donna Louder. “We are left with land that is useless. That is forever.”