Despite years of public opposition, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has approved the permit application for Tri-County Industries Inc. to operate a municipal waste landfill in Liberty and Pine townships near Grove City.

DEP’s Northwest Regional Office announced on Monday morning that this step allows Tri-County to build a new landfill within a 99-acre area where the company’s previous landfill was located until it closed in 1990.

The site is south of state Route 208, about 2 miles southeast of the Grove City Airport and the Grove City Premium Outlets shopping center.

A few more approvals are needed before Tri-County can move forward, according to a news release from DEP.

Tri-County has also applied for permits addressing water discharges, wetlands and air emissions, which DEP still needs to be approved.

The landfill would operate 24 hours a day Monday through Saturday. Putrescible waste, such as household garbage that decomposes, would be disposed of at night to reduce attracting birds in the area near the airport, DEP said.

This application, filed in December 2018, marks the fourth time that Vogel Holding Inc. has sought to reopen the landfill. Community members have continued to speak out against the proposal.

The DEP denied previous attempts made by Vogel Holding Inc., which owns the Tri-County property in Liberty and Pine townships.

The latest application indicates that a previous landfill request was denied in part because of violations at some of Vogel Holding’s properties, which include the Seneca Landfill in Butler County.

Although members of the Citizens’ Environmental Association of the Slippery Rock Area weren’t surprised to learn that the permit was approved, they were disappointed by the DEP’s decision.

DEP officials had indicated in 2019 that an approval was likely, making it seem like the public hearing the agency held in October 2019 was a “mere formality,” said Bill Pritchard, president of CEASRA, a nonprofit group that has been keeping a close watch on this project.

“They were just going through the motions,” he said.

He feels DEP didn’t really consider the public’s input. More than 250 people attended the hearing.

Twenty-eight people testified, and none were in favor of the proposed landfill, citing health and safety concerns, excessive noise, increased traffic, and potential pollution, according to Allied News files.

The Mercer County commissioners attended the October hearing to voice their opposition for granting the permit.

“I thought people presented enough reasonable concerns that DEP wouldn’t allow Tri-County to disturb the landfill,’’ Commissioner Tim McGonigle said on Monday.

The commissioners will be contacting Liberty and Pine townships’ supervisors to map a strategy before the 30-day appeal period expires.

“You can bet they will want to appeal,’’ McGonigle said.

Mercer County Commissioner Scott Boyd also attending the hearing. Although the company is offering its solution to birds being attracted near the airport, it was among the more serious concerns at the hearing, Boyd said Monday.

“I sympathize with that danger of planes going in and out of the airport,’’ he said.

“I’m sure we will be willing to contribute our opinions and any influence we might have with an appeal,’’ he said.

The DEP has also released a “harms versus benefits” document that CEASRA feels doesn’t adequately address potential problems associated with the landfill.

And Tri-County leaders have said they think the landfill will increase property values, Pritchard said, calling that claim “erroneous.”

CEASRA plans to appeal the decision, especially based on the comments from the public hearing, he said.

Pritchard also is chairman of the Pine Township supervisors and said the township is already on record as opposing the landfill.

The appeal period lasts 30 days, and can be filed with the Environmental Hearing Board, said Tom Decker, a community relations specialist with DEP’s Northwest Regional Office in Meadville.

The permit would expire on Dec. 28, 2030, according to the DEP’s cover letter, which provides contact information for the hearing board.

If the remaining permits are approved, the waste currently located in old, unlined disposal areas at the site of the former Tri-County landfill will be moved onto new, lined and monitored disposal cells, DEP reported on Monday.

The landfill would process up to 4,000 tons of waste per day with a total proposed capacity of more than 7.5 million tons.

“DEP carefully reviewed the information contained in the permit applications, asked many questions and were eventually satisfied that Tri-County provided sufficient information to meet the regulatory requirements for approval,” James Miller, director of the DEP Northwest Regional Office, said in the news release.

They gave careful consideration to residents’ and townships’ apprehensions and made sure the application addressed those concerns, he added.

Edward R. Vogel, vice president of Vogel Holding, previously said the Tri-County landfill closed in 1990 because the company wasn’t able to comply with new DEP regulations.

He could not be reached for comment. A message left with Jerry Bowser, Tri-County’s general manager, was not returned.

McGonigle said DEP’s approval is brutal timing.

“Here we are just about ready to get out of 2020 and right at the end they throw this at us,’’ he said. “It’s one more awful thing to have happen in 2020.’’

FOR MORE information including several documents related to the landfill permit application, visit www.dep.pa.gov then click on “Regional Resources” followed by “Northwest Regional Office.” On the right side of the page, click on “Community Information,” then look for the “Tri-County Landfill” category.

HERALD BUSINESS EDITOR Michael Roknick contributed to the story.

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