It's pretty clear that Boyertown residents and merchants are sick and tired of trucks from the Rolling Hills Landfill in Earl Township rumbling through their otherwise quiet little town, but how to alleviate the problem isn't as obvious.
The Delaware County Solid Waste Authority, the landfill's owner, is proposing an expansion that would extend the life of the landfill from four to 17 years, and it needs the approval of the Berks County commissioners to do so.
At Thursday's commissioners' meeting, David Beane, a special environmental council speaking on behalf of Building a Better Boyertown (BBB) said BBB doesn't oppose the expansion, but would like the approval to be contingent on finding a way to alleviate truck traffic in Boyertown and surrounding communities. On the other hand, Commissioner Mark Scott, Boyertown Mayor Marianne Deery, and a Boyertown businessman and Earl Township resident said they are strongly opposed to any expansion of the landfill.
Boyertown officials estimate that, currently, upwards of 100 transfer trailers from the landfill travel through Boyertown every day, causing congestion, dirt, and noise. It is also believed that the heavy traffic is damaging historic storefronts and homes that were not engineered for the nature and volume of this type of traffic.
"Let me be clear," Beane said. "We are not here to oppose the expansion of the landfill, as community economic growth is behind the mission of Building a Better Boyertown. This organization has made significant investments to promote Boyertown as a tourist destination.
"The endless stream of transfer trailers slogging through the town's quaint streets is antithetical to an economy increasingly based on tourism. While Building a Better Boyertown doesn't oppose the landfill expansion, it strongly believes that any permit approval must be conditioned on the authority taking measures to mitigate the burdens such expansion will place on the local host community."
Beane encouraged the county to support BBB's proposal to use local rail infrastructure as an alternative transportation route to the landfill.
"The Colebrookdale Railroad has the capacity to provide the required transportation infrastructure and is prepared to work closely with the authority, DEP's waste program, and the borough to engineer this alternative means of transporting loads of ash for disposal," he said.
After sharing 12 letters of support for BBB's proposal and a petition with 1,100 signatures, Adrianne Blank, the main street manager for BBB, asked the commissioners to "buy into the vision of Boyertown: the busy bustling shops, the walkability of the town, the tree-lined streets, the benches, being able to sit on the street and have a conversation, and the tourism that is coming to Boyertown."
Then, Frank Morgan, a Boyertown business owner and Earl Township resident, addressed the commissioners, saying that he is opposed to any landfill expansion. He shared that he is currently paying $25,000 to demolish the back corner of his building because of sinking and water damage caused by the truck traffic.
Boyertown Mayor Marianne Deery also opposes the expansion, saying, "I cannot believe that we're at this point when we knew 30 years ago that it was the wrong thing to do to put that landfill there. It was wrong then, and it continues to be wrong. I cannot believe that we're at this point even considering another 17 years when we had 30 years of misery."
Scott said the county has the right to say no to this expansion and expressed his frustration with "the fetus mentality" of many people in the community in what he called the "landfill wars in Berks County" that have stigmatized Berks County since the late 80s. He said Berks County has four landfills, more than any county in Pennsylvania.
"In general, this is a community that has caved to the more powerful and wealthy and influential forces, whether they be corporate or political, including Delaware County, which I daresay is a significantly wealthier county on a per-capita basis than Berks County will ever be," Scott said. "So, there's an environmental justice aspect to this that troubles me. It always has, but in America, very often justice belongs to those who have the deepest pockets. Nevertheless, once in a while. when people fight back, they win and might get lucky."
"After Delaware County acquired a place to put its trash, not wanting to put it in their own boundaries (they'd rather ship it to somebody else), the state legislature closed that particular opportunity to further abuses by one county of another, but of course, that particular abuse was grandfathered," Scott continued. "Here we are 25 years later, and we're sitting on the veto power over Delaware County.
"Imagine you're a Delaware County commissioner and, for 25 years, Berks County has turned Delaware County into a pay toilet and sent their trash to Delaware County. Do you think for a minute the commissioners in Delaware County would scratch their chins and say, 'Hmmm, I wonder if I want this landfill to expand?' Those people don't have that mentality. I think they have more pride, frankly."
Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach said that, going into Thursday's meetings, most of what he had heard from other residents was consistent with the position that BBB presented, but he is no longer sure if that's indicative of the entire community and asked for clarification.
Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt encouraged Berks and Delaware counties and the Delaware County Solid Waste Authority to work with each other rather than "throwing threats and litigation at each other."