AP NEWS

Structural Obfuscation

May 12, 2019

Ever since owners of the Keystone Sanitary Landfill first proposed a gargantuan expansion that would extend its life by more than 40 years, the company has maintained a technical, unemotional argument for the project — with one telling exception.

Whenever skeptics, including this page, have referred to the landfill as a “dump,” landfill spokesmen have bristled. Keystone is not a dump, they have said, but a high-tech engineering marvel. It includes a state-of-the-art system to collect and treat landfill runoff known as leachate, and another system collects methane to be used as a fuel for power generation and to prevent its escape into the atmosphere.

All of that is key to the question of whether the landfill can expand. Dunmore’s zoning ordinance precludes a structure higher than 50 feet in the zone covering the landfill’s location. But the zoning board dutifully found in 2014 that the marvel of engineering is not a structure, thus exempting it from the restriction.

Landfill opponents appealed that decision, lost in local court and appealed to the Commonwealth Court. They appear to have a better chance there to overturn the zoning board decision because, also in 2014, that court ruled that a landfill in Pine Twp., Mercer County, is indeed a structure subject to zoning height restrictions.

It would be unusual for the appellate court not to abide by its own precedent, which the landfill operators appear to recognize. They recently asked Dunmore to change its zoning ordinance to settle the height issue in their favor before the Commonwealth Court might decide otherwise. Under the proposal, the ordinance itself would declare that the landfill is not a structure, making it expandable skyward.

Landfill representatives did not appear at a scheduled borough planning commission hearing on the matter, and the commission recommended against the change.

As Pat Clark, of expansion opponent Friends of Lackawanna, put it: “KSL has spent the past 30 years touting its self-proclaimed, state-of-the-art status and its modern engineering sophistication. All of a sudden, they wanted everyone to forget those assertions and pretend this high-tech structure is a mere pile of dirt, not a structure. You can’t have it both ways.”

But Clark has skin in the game. What does an informed neutral party say? Advanced Disposal, which owns 200 landfills, to the question on its website, “What is a landfill?” responds: “A landfill is a carefully designed structure built into or on top of the ground, in which trash is separated from the area around it.”