Friday, June 8, 2018

Landfill Expansion Hearing Draws Berks Co. Crowd

Photos by Evan Brandt
A near-capacity crowd showed up at Earl Elementary School Thursday for the public hearing on the proposed expansion of the Rolling Hills Landfill.

Of the 18 people who spoke at Thursday night's public hearing on the proposed vertical expansion of the Rolling Hills Landfill in Earl Township, only five spoke either in favor of the proposal, or defended the landfill's operations.

Most who spoke talked about the negative impact years of heavy truck traffic have had on downtown Boyertown's historic buildings, and its current efforts to revitalize the downtown by emphasizing its historic aspects and its walkability.

Berks County Commissioner Mark Scott came out swinging, arguing that
Mark Scott
because the commissioners had not consented to the to the expansion, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's consideration of the expansion is "illegal."

He told DEP officials, "I suggest you reject the plan until such time as consent is obtained from the Berks County Commissioners," adding with a look at the audience, "don't hold your breath."

He said the "hams/benefits" analysis by Delaware County Solid Waste Authority, which owns and operates the landfill is a "status quo" analysis which assumes nothing has changed since its last expansion "but that's false. The Boyertown community is far more vibrant than the last time harms and benefits were evaluated."

He notes that the analysis by the authority only looks at Earl Township. "Nothing is said about Boyertown and its long trevails with excess traffic. Nothing," said Scott. "It also fails to mention traffic impacts on Gilbertsville, Colebrookdale or Boyertown along Route 73."

He noted that the Rolling Hills Landfill does not pay property taxes, wile the privately owned Conestoga Landfill, which is about the same size, "pays about $250,000 to the Twin Valley School District, the county and the township."

He said the $60 million Earl has collected in tipping fees -- which makes township property taxes unnecessary -- "is supposed to be a public benefit. I ask you, how does stuffing more cash into Earl Township's bloated mattress benefit the impacted area?"

Adrienne Blank
Adrienne Blank, executive director of Building a Better Boyertown, said the
group received a $1 million grant in December to drive revitalization efforts based on historic tourism and a walkable downtown, and what former BBB President Jake Lea referred to as "the endless caravan of trucks" down East Philadelphia Avenue threatens that effort.

John Sartor, an engineer with Gilmore Associates, said a study by his firm also found that the vibrations from trucks can damage "fragile historic structures."

That study, and one by ClimeCo, was paid for by Building a Better Boyertown. Zachary Palm, from ClimeCo, said his firm's environmental study showed air quality in downtown Boyertown is harmed by the particulate matter the ash that escapes from the trucks on their way to the landfill.

Crystal Seitz, executive director of Pennsylvania's Americana Region, said feeling safe while walking through downtown Boyertown, being able to have outdoor dining, are crucial to Boyertown's revitalization effort.

Patricia Loder
She said $857 million is spent every year by tourists in Berks County and most of that happens in downtowns, the soot, noise and danger from the trucks impedes that revitalization, she said.

Boyertown Borough Manager Patricia Loder said a recent analysis found that 30 percent of the truck traffic through Boyertown is connected to the landfill.

She said if the trucks cannot be re-routed, and an option of shipping the ash by rail won't work, the borough would request a "traffic mitigation fee" based on the tons of ash hauled through the borough.

That money could pay for new traffic signals and a new parking garage to make up for parking lost should parking on East Philadelphia Avenue be reduced to one side to accommodate the trucks.

Most said the preferred solution was to re-route the trucks from downtown Boyertown.

Joe Paschall
Even several of those who supported the project, said they were not opposed to the suggestion made by many that the option of transporting the incinerator ash from Delaware County to the landfill via rail be more fully explored.

Joe Paschall, who said the landfill provides many benefits, including jobs and $60 million in tipping fees to Earl Township -- and who said "you can't blame the landfill for all the truck traffic through Boyertown" -- said he likes the idea of transporting the remains of the waste burned in Delaware County's Chester incinerator by rail.

And Nathaniel Guest, the executive director of the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust, said a recent study showed the rail option is viable, although it would take investment in a new transfer station, for trucks to take the ash for the final few miles to the landfill, as well as a shoring up of some of its bridges to carry the weight.
Joseph Vasturia

Joseph Vasturia, CEO of the Delware County Solid Waste Authority, said he has
been with the organization since the 1980s and that the route the trucks take to the landfill is dictated by the DEP permit.

In the last year, the landfill has contributed more than $4.5 million to the county, the state and Earl Township.

Under the expansion request, the average daily tonnage will remain at 3,200 tons and the height of the landfill will not exceed 884 feet.

But it's already too high, said Oley Township Supervisor James Coker. All of Oley township is designated an historic place, and it has had to endure the landfill's assault on its aesthetics "with no benefit whatsoever" to his township.

The hearing broke up after 90 minutes and the comments made, as well as those submitted to DEP by Friday, June 15, will be part of the record and be considered in DEP's decision.

Here are the Tweets from the hearing.

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