Bloomington wary of proposed Burnsville landfill expansion

A portion of the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill property is shown being readied in 2019 to accept more waste. A plan to raise the landfill's permitted capacity has drawn opposition across the Minnesota River in Bloomington (file photo).

Bloomington has a long list of concerns, and a few suggestions, regarding the future of a landfill site in Burnsville.

The lengthy, complex process of expanding the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill is progressing, and Bloomington City Council members continue to outline objections to piling onto a landfill site that may one day rise higher than any point in Bloomington. Those objections were summarized in two letters the city is submitting to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, both approved unanimously by the council at its July 12 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 near the Minnesota River, south of Dwan Golf Course. The expansion is expected to extend the useful life of the landfill by 40 years, according to the MPCA.

Bloomington Planning Manager Glen Markegard outlined several concerns that the city will communicate in its letters. The expansion plan requires a certificate of need approval and supplemental environmental impact statement approval, which builds off of the previous environmental impact statement. The certificate of need is a state allocation process that allows landfills to expand, and the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill is one of four applicants for expansion. An impact statement identifies the repercussions and recommends mitigation for the sites, Markegard explained.

The Burnsville Sanitary Landfill is projected to collect approximately 30% of the metro area’s trash over the next seven years, and Bloomington leaders are recommending that the MPCA considers a different approach in determining the expansion needs for the site. Their recommendation calls for an emphasis on environmental sensitivity, environmental justice and local input, according to Markegard.

Markegard noted several environmental concerns of the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill. It is in close proximity to the Minnesota River and drinking water supplies, adjacent to the flood plain and is near residential properties in Burnsville and Savage, as well as Bloomington.

The environmental justice, or localized impacts, of the site are greater than other landfill sites applying for an expansion, according to Markegard.

In 2019, 69% of the waste disposed at the site was deemed recoverable, and the city will recommend that the certificate of need pursue commitments from the site to separate organic and recycleable material, Markegard said.

The supplemental environmental impact statement draft for the site raises additional concerns about the site, such as air quality and aviation impacts.

Landfills generate significant gas, and the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill would release 25% of that gas into the atmosphere under the expansion. Of the 75% that would be captured on site, approximately half of that would be burnt off. “There’s be a giant flare that would burn it off, creating lighting impacts and noise impacts,” Markegard said.

At approximately 6.5 miles from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the site is outside the five-mile radius of the airport, where landfills are prohibited, as landfills attract birds that are a nuisance to air travel. But the site is below a major flight path, and the Federal Aviation Administration has documented concerns within the environmental impact statement, according to Markegard.

And the landfill’s height would require a blinking light atop it to warn aircraft of its presence at night, similar to towers and other structures near airports, he noted.

The groundwater issues that could arise are related to several factors. A portion of the landfill is unlined. Liners are intended to protect the groundwater from harmful substances within the landfill, which borders a quarry. If dewatering within the quarry – the removal of groundwater at the site for quarry operations – ends in the next 20-40 years, as anticipated, the water levels in its vicinity will rise, and waste within unlined portions of the landfill should be relocated ahead of that, Markegard explained.

The city’s concerns also call for significant contamination monitoring of the site, he added.

Council members added their concerns for the visual impact of the landfill, and its subsequent impact on property values in the vicinity, to the list.

More waste

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, he told the council. 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 the statutory goal for combined recycling and composting is 75% of waste by 2030, he noted.

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, according to Koudelka.

And in 2019 an Elk River landfill was closed, necessitating an increase in capacity elsewhere, he added.

Surprise

Despite previous council discussions regarding the proposed expansion, Council Member Shawn Nelson said it was a surprise to learn that gas would be burned off at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, and that there would be blinking lights at the site to warn passing aircraft.

Nelson said that the expansion doesn’t make sense, emphasizing his concern for potential groundwater contamination as a result of the plan.

The MPCA is collecting public comments on the proposal through July 31. Information about the plan and where to address comments is available online at blm.mn/landfill.

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

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