Residents divided over proposed landfill expansion

Posted: 12:39 AM EDT Oct 10, 2013

Part two of the public hearing regarding the expansion of the IESI Bethlehem Landfill in Lower Saucon Township on Wednesday night went a lot like part one did, with the final chapter still to be written.

Saucon Valley High School again served as the backdrop for the township's council to hear about 70 minutes of public comments about what one resident called "the most important decision you will make in your career on this board." On the one side are those who oppose Ordinance No. 2013-04 that would allow the Applebutter Road landfill to expand by 53 acres and stay in business at least another decade.

On Wednesday night several residents of nearby area called "Steel City" and in the township reiterated similar sentiments that the expansion would subtly and overtly ruin their quality of life, stink up their neighborhoods, lower their property values and perhaps damage their water wells. It's not residents' fault that poor planning on part of the township years ago left them so economically reliant upon a trash landfill, one resident argued.

"You did very little to develop an economically-stable tax base," said Stephanie Brown during her three-minute testimony. "I'm ashamed you're taking the money."

On the other side of the coin was Steel City resident Robert Walters, who strode to the microphone and told board members he had been a resident of the area since 1963 and urged council to pass the measure, noting it would be fiscally irresponsible of the township to turn their backs on a heavily-regulated company such as IESI.

"The landfill has been a good corporate neighbor," he said.

Township resident Vernoica Oswald agreed. She noted the landfill will bring in a profit to the township.

"More money means less taxes," she reasoned.

Resident Ken Blose suggested that part of the problem was that there is no truly accurate measure of the impact financially on the township if the landfill closed. He said an economic impact study would placate a "lot of the anxiety" and provide clarity to council.

"Let's spend some money to find out what may happen," Blose said.

The ratio of for-and-against the landfill Wednesday night was against the expansion, but only slightly, indicating how the issue had divided the community and in some cases even neighbors.

One thing everyone in attendance shared in common was that they submitted to be searched by police before entering the high school cafeteria, where the hearing took place.

A vote was taken to end the hearing at roughly 8:12 p.m. Officials did not take a vote on the measure Wednesday night and did not say when one would be taken, although they informed residents that before a vote was registered they would place sufficient public notice of their intention to do so.