Plans to change zoning in Lower Saucon Township, so the IESI landfill can expand, were rejected as causing “greater environmental damage” in a 6-1 vote by the township’s Environmental Advisory Council.

Tuesday night’s vote constitutes a recommendation to the township council, which ultimately will determine the proposed rezoning.

The 224-acre IESI landfill along Applebutter Road will be full in less than four years if it can’t expand. And it can’t expand unless the township changes zoning on nearly 140 acres just west of the landfill.

The landfill’s operators already are buying up properties in the area to be rezoned, in anticipation of township approval.

The only EAC member supporting the proposed rezoning was Thomas Maxfield, who also serves on township council and on the township planning commission.

Maxfield told his EAC colleagues that landfills are “the most environmental way scientists have come up with to deal with our garbage. We’re all making garbage.”

He also said: “I don’t believe in the ‘not in my backyard’ thing. We have a responsibility as humans to deal with our own garbage.”

The EAC’s recommendation is one of three that the five township council members will consider when they decide the issue at some undetermined date in the future.

On July 25, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission unanimously opposed Lower Saucon changing its zoning.

But on Aug. 22, the township planning commission voted 3-2 in favor of the rezoning. Maxfield was among those voting yes that night.

The next step in the process will be a public hearing on the proposed rezoning, at 7 p.m. Sept. 25 in Saucon Valley School District’s administration building.

After Tuesday’s EAC meeting, Maxfield said no date has been set for the township council to decide the issue, but stressed it definitely won’t vote at the Sept. 25 hearing.

Township council member David Willard told the EAC his council must first vote to advertise the proposed zoning amendment and then take a final vote after it has been advertised.

“We’re going to take everything into consideration,” said Willard just before the EAC voted. “But tonight’s recommendation should be based strictly on environmental factors.”

If the zoning change is approved, the landfill operators will have to come back to the township for approval of plans to expand. Landfill manager Sam Donato told the EAC getting all local and state approvals may take up to four years.

Unlike the standing-room-only crowd at the August planning commission meeting-- where many residents raised environmental and quality of life concerns about the landfill -- the meeting room in the township building was less than half full for Tuesday night’s EAC meeting.

The motion to leave current zoning unchanged was made by EAC member Allan Johnson and seconded by Laura Ray.

Johnson’s motion stated that “the environmental damage to the area within the proposed light industrial zone will be greater than if the zoning in the area is not changed.”

Voting with Johnson and Ray were Sandra Yerger, Ted Beardsley, Hazem Hijazi and Dru Germanoski.

Yerger, the EAC’s chairwoman, also invited associate members to weigh in. Sarah Stanlick and Michael Boyle agreed with the six voting members. Glenn Kaye abstained.

Just in case the township council does not go along with the EAC’s recommendation, it also unanimously voted that 300-foot buffers should be required around the actual landfill if it is allowed to expand. The township planning commission made the same recommendation last month.

Environmental concerns unfounded?

The EAC vote came after more than 90 minutes of discussion.

In making his motion, Johnson said more trees and foliage could be eliminated if the zoning is changed and the landfill expands. He said uses in the proposed light industrial zone also could harm groundwater, threatening wells, and that the health of nearby residents could be harmed by air pollution and diseases carried by animals, such as rodents and birds.

“If the zoning is changed, it will be worse for the environment,” said Johnson.