Bloomington leaders haven’t softened their objections to a proposed landfill expansion across the Minnesota River, but their disappointment regarding the plan has increased.

The complex and prolonged process of granting an expansion of the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, south of Bloomington’s Dwan Golf Course, gave Bloomington leaders another opportunity to express their concerns regarding environmental impacts of the plan. Their previous concerns seemed to have little impact upon the progression of the plan.

Mayor Tim Busse said he was “annoyed and frustrated” by the responses from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to concerns raised by the city last summer. He didn’t think any of the concerns were radical, yet they were refuted in one way or another by the MPCA, and Busse expressed interest in an explanation from an MPCA representative regarding Bloomington’s concerns.

The city outlined several environmental concerns about expanding the landfill in letters to the MPCA last July. Among several concerns detailed in the letters were groundwater contamination and the height of the landfill, which may one day eclipse the highest point in Bloomington. “Those comments were not utilized by the MPCA,” City Planner Glen Markegard told the council at its Dec. 20 meeting.

Owned and operated by Waste Management, the landfill is used for disposal of traditional trash pickup from residential and commercial properties, industrial waste and construction and demolition debris. The proposal would expand the site’s capacity and shrink its footprint from 216 to 204 acres, but with a peak height more than 250 feet higher than currently permitted at the site. The expansion is expected to extend the useful life of the landfill by 40 years, according an MPCA summary of the plan.

The MPCA was in the process of approving a certificate of need for the site last summer, and is now considering the supplemental environmental impact statement of the site. The environmental review is not the final say in the expansion of the site. That will primarily fall upon the MPCA and city of Burnsville, according to a Bloomington City Council memo.

The Burnsville Sanitary Landfill is expected to collect about 30 percent of the metro area’s waste during the next seven years, and if more trash is coming to the river valley, Bloomington leaders want to see, at minimum, increased efforts to minimize the chance of groundwater contamination and reduce the volume of waste being piled at the landfill.

Short of halting solid waste collection at the landfill, the city’s letter requests that less recoverable material, such as recyclable material, be disposed of in the landfill. As of 2019 it was determined that 69% of the material in the landfill is recoverable, Markegard said. Concurrently, shredding waste at the site could also reduce the volume of the landfill pile, he noted.

The threat of groundwater contamination is reduced by lining landfill sites. Liners are intended to protect the groundwater from harmful substances within the landfill, and the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill borders a quarry, which is expected to cease removing groundwater for quarry operations in the next 20-40 years, causing an increase in its water level. The city’s letter again recommends that unlined areas of the landfill be mitigated.

The proposed expansion is a result of the metro area’s trash problem, according to Kirk Koudelka, the MPCA’s assistant commissioner for land policy and strategic initiatives. The metro area creates 3.3 million tons of trash annually, or about a ton per average household, according to Koudelka.

With 47% of waste being recycled in the metro, landfills and incinerators are operating at full capacity, as are compost and organics systems, he said, noting that the statutory goal for combined recycling and composting is 75% of waste by 2030.

Landfills are the least preferred environmental option for disposal, and a result of past choices made by state and local governments, private businesses and individuals, Koudelka said. And in 2019 an Elk River landfill was closed, necessitating an increase in capacity elsewhere, he added.

Project information from the MPCA is available online at tinyurl.com/landfill22 and from Bloomington at blm.mn/landfill.

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.

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