By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
GROVE CITY AREA —
Tri-County Landfill, Inc.'s application process to reopen and expand a landfill outside of Grove City is winding down.
The proposal was discussed at a public meeting and hearing - which lasted about two hours - in the auditorium of Grove City High School Monday that drew about 100, including the state Department of Environment Protection, Tri-County, businesses and local residents.
"There was a lot of public outcry for the hearing," said Gary Clark, DEP community relations coordinator. Testimony from people opposing the landfill was taken by a stenographer for the department to consider.
The public meeting portion was the Meadville DEP office's third for Tri-County, added Todd Carlson, waste program manager. The meetings are to inform citizens about the landfill application, for the applicant to give a presentation and citizens to ask questions. The DEP's last public meeting for Tri-County was in 2009; the first, in 2005, Carlson said.
The DEP is now in its technical review phase for the landfill application, first submitted in 2004. The review looks at what systems a landfill applicant would put in place to keep air, waterways/wetlands and water clean.
The first phase of the application looked at benefits versus harms of allowing a landfill applicant to handle waste. In 2008, the DEP accepted Tri-County's paperwork citing how the benefits of the landfill would outweigh its harms - including its bird mitigation plan.
The community worried that birds drawn to the waste may collide with planes arriving and departing at the nearby Grove City Regional Airport.
Those worries continued to be expressed at Monday's meeting, as well as other issues that have been brought up by citizens time and again: The site is too close to homes and businesses, making it a hazard to the senses, health, safety, economics and property values.
The landfill would operate 24 hours a day, six days a week, receiving up to 4,000 tons of garbage per day by about 218 truck trips.
"I implore the DEP to care about families more than profits," said Karen Shaffer, Pine Township resident. "I beg you to show that you care about my children."
The landfill originally began operating in the 1940s, but the DEP shut it down in 1990 during Vogel family ownership; they also owns Seneca Landfill in Mars. The then-Department of Environmental Resources was closing landfills that couldn't comply with new laws.
The state has denied several applications for Tri-County to expand the landfill since 1976. Since the 1990 shutdown, the DEP has allowed the company to use the property as a waste transfer station.
Tri-County has continued appealing to the DEP to reopen the landfill, with the Vogels reportedly spending $4 million to $5 million on the endeavor.
More of the old landfill is in Pine, but if it's reopened, 1.5 million cubic yards of trash - the majority of it underground from before new DEP regulations in 1988 - will be relocated and placed on an industrial liner. The landfill would expand from 40 to 99 acres, equally spanning Pine and Liberty townships.
Systems will also be constructed to handle methane, which would be returned to the power grid, and leachate, which is contaminated landfill water that will be treated and released into a local tributary that eventually connects to Wolf Creek.
Tony Sunseri, Liberty supervisor, had concerns that the 85,000 gallons/day of leachate discharged into the local creek could exacerbate flooding the township already suffers during heavy rains - which DEP official John Holden promised to investigate.
Having worked with 90 percent of the state's landfills, none has ever had issues with groundwater contamination once they were modernized, said independent engineer John Blazosky, for Tri-County, on Monday.
Tri-County is also "a family-owned operation," he added, and the benefit of the landfill will be both environmental, in pulling up the old waste from the ground and placing it on an industrial liner, and economic, in creating revenue to the host municipalities and jobs.
Carmen DeRose, general manager of Premium Outlets Grove City, disagreed, saying the landfill truck traffic, smell and sight will push away business at the Springfield Township outlet mall, threatening hundreds of jobs.
Other businesses have also sprung up on Route 208 in Springfield since Tri-County applied for a landfill, added Dave Dayton, co-owner of Slovak Folk Crafts on 208 in Springfield for 12 years. He believed a new traffic study is in order.
"Engineers aren't the ones to do the day-to-day operations. It's up to the owners and the employees," said Bill Pritchard, chair of the public relations committee of the Citizens Environmental Association of the Slippery Rock Area, who believes the proof is in tens of thousands of dollars in citations to Seneca and Tri-County by the DEP for various violations.
The DEP can act independently in its decision to approve or deny a landfill application, but applicants must also adhere to local zoning laws, making Tri-County's application more complicated due to decisions by Mercer County President Judge Thomas R. Dobson on Jan. 15.
Tri-County appealed the county court concerning the township's zoning laws, which do not allow structures over 40 feet high.
Tri-County wants its landfill to be nearly four times that height, but does not believe it would be considered a structure.
Dobson sided with the townships on the height restriction, stating that modern landfills have all types of man-made hardware underground, not just earth; however, the judge sided with Tri-County on other zoning matters.
The judge's decision shows that Tri-County is even less compatible within Pine than once thought, said Charles Means, counsel for the township.
DEP counsel Douglas Moorehead said Tri-County and the townships could keep fighting in court over Dobson's decision.
However, if the garbage company accepted the 40-foot limit to operate, "We would consider it a major modification; a major change to require a new application," he added, starting with the benefits/harms evaluation all over again.
In which case, the DEP's acceptance of the landfill's current benefits/harms analysis would no longer apply to the modified structure, Pritchard said.
All testimony and concerns will be taken into consideration for the DEP's technical review for Tri-County's landfill application, Carlson said.
Written testimony regarding the landfill must be submitted by Feb. 8 to the DEP's Gary Clark, Department of Environmental Protection, Northwest Regional Office, 230 Chestnut St., Meadville, PA 16335.
Ed Vogel Jr., vice president of Tri-County, wouldn't say on Monday if he would appeal Dobson's decision.
"We're reviewing the judge's decision," said Alan Miller, counsel for Tri-County, which has 30 days to decide an appeal from Dobson's Jan. 15 decision.
For more information about submitting written testimony, call DEP at 814-332-6340.
Published Jan. 30, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.