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Destroying Quality of Life in Lower Saucon Township

Lehigh River at Redington Cuff

I promised a more expansive blog on the landfill expansion issue.  This is it.  It’s long, so I’ve included a table of contents in case there are some parts of it you already know about or don’t care about.

  • Background
  • Current Zoning Change Request
  • Why It’s a Bad Idea
  • Why Now?
  • The “Raising Taxes” Red Herring
  • I Don’t Live Near There.  Why Do I Care?
  • What You Can Do

Background

Landfills have lifespans.  They have a certain number of acres that can be legally filled with garbage and then their life is over.  Done.  No more garbage; no more revenue; just ongoing maintenance costs.

Bethlehem Landfill was reaching that limit.  In 2015 they applied for the Southeastern Expansion.  The expansion was granted in 2017.  It supposedly granted the landfill about 5 more years of life.  In 2020 they applied for the Northeastern Realignment Expansion.  It has not yet been granted but it would supposedly provide an additional 5 or 6 years of life to the landfill.  Both of these were requests for changes in how the land that already made up the landfill could be used, allowing for more dumping.  It wasn’t for new land.

Apparently Waste Connections, the parent company of Bethlehem Landfill, isn’t about to settle for that solution.  As far back as 2015, a Political Action Committee (PAC) named Responsible Solutions of Pennsylvania1, started sending out flyers in support of Sandra Yerger and Tom Maxfield, Republican candidates who supported landfill expansion.  Notice the coincidence with the 2015 Southeastern Expansion application.  Only Yerger won. Then in 2021, a PAC by exactly the same name which was founded by Andrew Moss, the Northeast Division government affairs manager for Waste Connections, received a donation of $75,000 from Waste Connections2 and began a campaign that supported three more Republicans, Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky, who supported the Northeastern Realignment Expansion of the landfill.  They all won.  Let’s face it.  $75,000 is a big chunk of money to dump into a local race.

And now, just one year after that election that put a Republican majority on the township council, here comes Waste Connections with a request to double the size of the current landfill and remove various environmental and conservation restrictions.  And the four Republican council members have shown no interest in performing any kind of due diligence as to whether this is a good or bad thing for the township.  What a strange coincidence!

Current Zoning Change Request

So what is it that Bethlehem Landfill wants?  They’ve apparently been quietly buying up land adjacent to the current landfill and now have 275+ acres under their control.  The problem is, that land is zoned Rural Agricultural (RA) and you can’t put a landfill on RA land.  So they need to get the RA land rezoned to Light Industrial (LI). Ah, but therein lies another problem.  If you have LI land, you can only put a landfill on it by Special Exception.  To get a special exception granted, you have to jump through all kinds of hoops, including going in front of the Zoning Board to get their blessing.  But if you ask the township council to move a landfill use out of Special Exception and into Conditional Use, then you only need the township council’s approval to go ahead and build your garbage dump.

Special Exception uses in LI zones include a lot of rather unpleasant uses that need to be tightly controlled such as salvage yard, petroleum & hazardous substance storage, production of chemical products, mineral extraction. And landfill and waste disposal facilities.  The only thing allowed under conditional use is tower-based commercial communication facilities.  Do you really think that landfills require as little oversight as cellphone towers?  I don’t.

A third requested change is to remove the requirement to undergo the site plan approval process and requirements.  This removes one layer of oversight from the entire process.  Every layer that gets removed leads to more opportunities for inappropriate usages to sneak in.

The fourth request, and I think this is the sneakiest of them all, is to permit the creation of a Natural Resource Mitigation Alternative.  What this means is that if the landfill wants to build on more property than that which meets the “permitted net buildable site area,” they can do that if they dedicate land in excess of the amount of land that they want to use to the township.  However, it specifically states that “the land proposed for dedication does not need to contain the same environmental resource as those resource protection lands on the subject property.”  In other words, they can dedicate to the township any kind of crappy old land in exchange for cutting down forests and destroying natural habitats.  

Also in this fourth request is the most egregious of all the requests.  That instead of dedicating other land to the township, they can instead give the township money by means of a “fee-in-lieu of dedication.” Translation:  they can buy off the township to get the extra land they want.

If you want to read all of this proposed ordinance 2022-02, you can find it all here.  

Why It’s a Bad Idea

The answers to this are so obvious that it almost seems insulting to have to outline it but let’s make a list:

From the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission:

  • “The proposed text amendments do not align with the intent of FutureLV:The Regional Plan to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.  Landfills and Waste Disposal Facilities are high intensity land uses that pose adverse impacts on the public, and these impacts must be carefully considered and mitigated.”
  • “The addition of a Natural Resources Mitigation Alternative does not align with the intent of  FutureLV to protect high-priority natural lands.”
  • “The areas proposed to be rezoned…are in a Character Defining Area of the Future Land Use Plan, representing the natural and scenic character of the Lehigh Valley, including High Preservation Priority features of the Natural Resources Plan such as woodlands, steep slopes and Natural Heritage Inventory Core Habitats.”

You can find the complete letter from LVPC here.

From Representative Bob Freeman:

  • “Releasing the conservation easements completely undermines the original intent of those easements to protect environmentally sensitive areas in the township.”
  • “It should also be noted that the removal of forested areas is a detriment to ground water quality as forested areas act as natural recharge zones for groundwater.”
  • “These 275 acres serve as a buffer area around the landfill, and preserves the wonderful view shed afforded by the forested mountain area that overlooks the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor…”
  • “The Township should be requesting input from contiguous neighboring communities before proceeding with any change that would contradict the [Multi-Municipal Comprehensive P]lan.”
  • “[Applebutter Road] was not built to withstand the heavy trucks that travel to the landfill.”

You can find the complete letter from Representative Freeman here.

Here are a few more that any rational person can come up with:

  • When landfills reach their expiration date, you are left with nothing but a mound of useless garbage.  Although landfills will try to tell you that there are good afterlife uses for landfills, there really aren’t.  Roger Bellas of the DEP reports that there are no landfills in the Northeast that currently have after-use proposals.  Remediation is expensive and generally not cost-effective for the landfill company.
  • If you give up the conservation easements on current lands, how will you protect any conservation easements in the future?  It will have set a precedent.
  • Once you cut down trees, you can’t put them back.

And finally, from the Pennsylvania Constitution:

PA Constitution Article I, Section 27: 27.

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.

Why Now?

Ah yes, good question.  When the township council listed their meeting dates for 2022, the December date was set for December 7.  Then in October along comes this rezoning request from Bethlehem Landfill and all of a sudden, we need to have a hearing in a regularly scheduled meeting so we schedule a meeting for December 21 and put the hearing on that date since apparently they couldn’t get the hearing together by December 7.

Why the rush?  There’s not one item on that agenda that is time-sensitive or time-critical.  Nothing on that agenda can’t wait until the regular meeting in January or later, including the rezoning hearing.

However, if you don’t want many people to show up and you don’t want many people to know about it, schedule it the week before Christmas on a date that wasn’t announced at the beginning of the year.  Bonus points if it’s the same night as the high school’s Christmas program (although I doubt they were smart enough to know that).

Likewise if you don’t want residents to have time to get the word out about what you’re doing, then by all means, cram it in before the end of the year.  

The “Raising Taxes” Red Herring

This is my favorite boondoggle. “If we lose the landfill income, we’ll have to raise taxes to make up for it.”

Pardon my French but – bullshit.

When I first started paying attention to township matters a number of years ago, I was told that because the landfill was close to capacity, the township was doing everything it could to mitigate that drop in revenue.  And the actions they took seemed to indicate they were taking prudent steps to do that – paying off debt and managing expenses.  Of course, most of the current people weren’t on council back then except for Mrs. deLeon.  By 2019, we were informed that all of the township’s debt had been paid off.  Bravo!  Next step, developing new income streams!

Oh, hold it.  That’s too much work.  If we just let the landfill expand, we get more money, they get what they want and we don’t have to go to the trouble of figuring out how to find more revenue.  And so we have seen no substantive actions to develop other revenue for the township in the last year or two.  

But even more concerning is the fact that we keep producing year-end reports that show that we are running a surplus EVERY SINGLE YEAR!  And not by a small amount.  By almost as much as we take in from the landfill.  Consider the following:

Lower Saucon Township’s primary sources of revenue:

            Enabling taxes (EIT) – 40%

            Landfill host fees – 24.9%

            Real estate taxes – 22.5%

As you can see, once we paid off our debt, we’ve been running surpluses each year equal to or in excess of the amount of revenue we receive from the landfill.  Which means if the landfill income disappeared tomorrow, we would still have enough revenue to run the township.  With a concerted economic development effort, we’d be doing even better and those sources of revenue might have more longevity – and certainly less odor – than the landfill.

Perhaps the more pertinent question to ask would be “Why have we been piling up all these surpluses when we could have been reducing taxes instead?”  We sailed through COVID with 29% and 30% excesses when other municipalities were suffering.  

Perhaps it’s time for us all to demand a reassessment of our properties.

I Don’t Live Near The Landfill. Why Do I Care?

Because these are our neighbors, dammit!  Oh, being a good neighbor isn’t enough of an answer?  Try these.

The bigger the landfill gets, the worse our reputation becomes.  Oh, you know Lower Saucon, that’s the landfill township.  You don’t want to buy a house there.  You can’t be sure what they’ll do.  They don’t abide by any of their agreements, cf. the Library.

The worse our reputation becomes, the more our property values decline.

Some of us use the resources that will be destroyed by the landfill expansion, most particularly the D & L Heritage Corridor with all of its beautiful scenery.  Or we kayak on the Lehigh River.  Or we birdwatch along the corridor.  Or we fish in the river.  Or we have to breathe as we drive past the landfill and smell the stench.

We have children and grandchildren for whom we have a responsibility to protect all of the natural beauty of this area.

Or maybe you’re just sick of these arrogant bullies destroying our quality of life in Lower Saucon Township. They clearly don’t share the values of most of us who live here.  If they did, they would never entertain this expansion.  And they wouldn’t have lost us our library services. And they wouldn’t have harassed our neighboring borough so much that they cut ties with us.  At what point do we say enough is enough?

What Can You Do?

Come to the zoning hearing tomorrow evening, Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 6:30 PM at Town Hall.  Sign up to speak.  Be there by 6 in order to get your name on the list.  Tell them why you oppose this disgusting idea.  If you need some idea of what to say, you could use some of the arguments in the blog.

Hold Thursday, Dec. 22 in case they decide to extend the hearing at SeWyCo.  No time announced yet.  Come and sign up to speak.  They’re hoping you won’t be bothered.  Prove them wrong.

Contribute to our GoFundMe  https://gofund.me/b436437f  This is going to be a long battle and we’ll need financial resources to wage it.  They get to use your tax dollars to fight for the landfill.  We need to fight back.

Tell all your friends and neighbors, not just in Lower Saucon, but also those who care about the environment everywhere.  We need their help.

Read up on all the issues at our website:  LSTLandfillExpansion.org and our Facebook page:  Fighting Landfill Expansion in Lower Saucon Township.  If you have questions, email us at:  LSTLandfillExpansion@gmail.com

Watch out for their tricks – be sure to check off on the sign-in sheet that you want to speak.  If you don’t check it off, Banonis will try to prevent you.  Be sure to get there in time to sign up.  They’ve been picking up the sheets at 6:30 so if you come late, you can’t sign in to speak.  Dirty little trick.

Here’s What We Have

Here’s What They Want Us to Have

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

1https://www.mcall.com/news/local/saucon-valley/mc-lower-saucon-landfill-campaign-102715-20151027-story.html

2https://wlvr.org/landfill-owner-dumps-75000-into-lower-saucon-township-council-race/#.Y6IgpS-B31x


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