“From an environmental point of view, changing the land use here is a bad idea for a lot of reasons,” agreed Germanoski. “The potential for groundwater damage is significant. A landfill is one of the few land use activities that requires ground water monitoring wells because of the potential for groundwater contamination.”
Germanoski said another negative environmental impact is that the landfill is “an artificial topography that is transforming the landscape.”
“From an environmental standpoint, I don’t see how it could be beneficial in any way to change the zoning,” said Ray. “We do know the landfill wants to expand. If we change it, that will happen. And that definitely does have a negative environmental impact.”
Although he voted with the majority, during the discussion Hijazi said the EAC can’t be opposed every time it is asked to make a recommendation on potential development. “The question for us is ‘can it be done in a proper way?’”
Atty. Maryanne Garber, the landfill’s lawyer, said all environmental concerns raised by EAC members on Tuesday already had been raised by residents during an October 2012 township meeting that lasted four hours.
Garber maintained each of those concerns was addressed and determined to be “unfounded” by environmental experts and consultants at that meeting.
“To make a decision based on misinformation about environmental impacts would be unfortunate,” she said.
Germanoski wasn’t buying. He repeated landfills present a potential for groundwater contamination because “liners leak, liners are ruptured.”
Garber stressed landfills are a highly regulated industry and a legitimate land use. Germanoski said landfills are highly regulated “because the potential for negative impact is high.”
Resident Donna Louder, who lives less than one mile from the landfill, complained that odors and excessive noise were coming from the operation just this week. She struggled to maintain her composure as she charged IESI permanently is destroying land.
Resident Gene Boyer said the purpose of the EAC is to preserve natural resources in the township. “Why would we allow the destruction of Mother Nature’s land?”
No one acted on the idea, but a couple of EAC members suggested all the area in question should be rezoned rural agricultural.
The existing landfill covers more than 220 acres. IESI plans to increase its property by more than 95 acres.
Donato told the EAC the actual landfill will expand by about 50 acres – 65 acres if surrounding containment areas are included.
He said the landfill will be able to operate for 10 to 12 more years if it can expand.
Donato said about 80 acres of the existing landfill already “are closed and capped.”
He said that section is highly populated by turkey, deer, fox and other wildlife.
He said eventually the entire landfill will be re-vegetated with native grasses and, in the future, it will be open space that can be used for passive recreation. He said it also could become the future site of a solar power field.
He explained gas produced by decomposing waste in the landfill is being tapped to produce enough electricity for thousands of homes and will continue to do so for about 10 years.
The landfill started around 1940 and initially was owned by Bethlehem.
The zoning change
If approved by the township council, most of the 140 acres adjoining the landfill will be rezoned Light Industrial (LI). Now most of it is zoned Rural Agricultural (RA) and Light Manufacturing (LM), which do not allow landfills.
One revelation at the meeting was that most of more than 100 acres of land on the southwest side of the landfill was rezoned from LI to LM by the township in 1998 specifically to stop the landfill from expanding.
Before that change, “it was LI as far back as anyone can remember,” said Garber.
The IESI lawyer also said: “Since 1998, there has been no development in this LM district. There hasn’t even been an application for a development.”
Germanoski called that environmentally “encouraging.”