DEP approves Keystone Sanitary Landfill expansion

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DUNMORE, LACKWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — DEP officials say the benefits outweigh the known harms.

Thursday, they announced the Keystone Landfill’s expansion has been approved. But residents in the area disagree.

One of the biggest landfills in the country is about to get even bigger.

“It will be taller than the Statue of Liberty,” Dunmore Borough mayor-elect Max Conway said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has approved a controversial expansion of the Keystone Sanitary Landfill, something the group, “Friends of Lackawanna” has been trying to prevent for years.

“It’s harming our children, people with asthma, it’s causing throat problems, it’s causing eyes to water. There’s nothing good coming from it. There’s not one benefit from that landfill, but money. What we’re finding out is that trumps everything else,” Michelle Dempsey of Friends of Lackawanna said.

The DEP gave Keystone the greenlight to expand on 435 acres within the existing permitted area of the landfill in the boroughs of Dunmore and Throop. Keystone is also approved to increase disposal capacity by 145 million cubic yards. Keystone applied for expansion in 2014.

“This application has generated a large amount of public interest, and we appreciate the involvement of those who feel this decision will impact them. We received more than a thousand public comments,” said Mike Bedrin, director of DEP’s Northeast Regional Office in Wilkes-Barre. “DEP has done a thorough and extensive review of the application and determined that it meets the regulatory requirements for approval.”

“We believe we run the best landfill in the United States. We work at it every day. We spend a lot of money in inspection and monitoring and compliance. Our compliance history will compare with anybody,” Keystone Landfill consultant Al Magnotta said.

During public hearings, locals claimed the landfill, which lies in a residential area, is harmful enough as it is.

“2,500 tons of radioactive drill cuttings a day on the landfill with the water leaching through it and going into our sewer system, which backs up into our homes by the way. And now they’ve decided to triple it? And triple the harms to our community?” Dempsey said.

In a release, the Department of Health says they have conducted environmental tests and “concluded that no long-term public health risk exists for residents living near the landfill”.

However, the DEP added special conditions to the expansion approval based on their recommendations, such as monitoring air quality, sub-surface gas, and leachate.

The decision to allow for the expansion to go forward drew immediate criticism from U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D, PA).

“The decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is contrary to the best interests of the people of Lackawanna Count,” Casey said. “The approval of this permit is further evidence that our Commonwealth’s environmental laws are inadequate. The General Assembly should pass legislation that will toughen enforcement of environmental laws, better protect communities and allow local municipalities more control over these decisions.”

“Additional monitoring wells all throughout the perimeter of the landfill to monitor leachate and improve leachate control collection. Leachate being the juice that runs off the garbage when it is capped and buried on site,” Colleen Connolly with DEP community relations said.

The approval comes two weeks after the PA Attorney General’s office confirmed the landfill is under investigation, but they would not say what for. Conway says the landfill played a huge role in last month’s primary election.

“Nobody wanted to see the landfill expanded, but if it does get expanded, I think we need to have people in borough government that are going to do everything they can to hold the landfill accountable for any infractions that occur up there, and that’s what I plan to do,” Conway said.

According to the DEP, the Governor Tom Wolf administration is currently working with legislators to propose an amendment that would require the agreement of municipalities prior to the approval of future major waste facility expansion. Currently, municipalities are able to negotiate agreements for fees paid to the municipality.

The current permit will be up for approval in 2025. Friends of Lackawanna plans to appeal.

The owners of the Keystone Sanitary Landfill could not be reached for comment.

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