A yearslong effort by Waste Management and Burnsville city officials to drastically increase the capacity and height of the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill is coming down the final stretch towards approval.
The proposed expansion, which received a draft permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last month, would increase the landfill’s peak elevation by 262 feet and see new trash dumped on top of old, unlined portions of the landfill that predate modern-day regulations.
Bloomington city officials vehemently oppose the 23.6 million-cubic-yard expansion, which, along the Minnesota River, would tower higher than the Hyland Hills Ski Area and Buck Hill.
Opponents of the project cite both visual and environmental concerns, noting how the expansion threatens to close the door on cleaning-up the unlined waste that’ll sit underneath the permitted expansion if approved.
However, local support for the project has largely hinged on a different claim — that the expansion promises to help solve, rather than worsen, the city’s problems with environmentally-precarious landfilling practices of the past by creating a path for cleaning-up a nearby Superfund site.
The Freeway Landfill
The Burnsville Sanitary Landfill and the Freeway Landfill and Dump both began operations in the 1960s, before modern-day regulations required synthetic liners and leachate collection systems to prevent contaminants from percolating into the groundwater.
The landfills, both along the Minnesota River, sit just a few miles apart.
The Freeway Landfill closed in 1990, but Burnsville Sanitary Landfill stayed open by keeping pace with new regulations — however, unlined portions of the landfill from earlier years remained.
For years, state environmental officials have studied how to clean-up the roughly 6 million cubic yards of unlined waste at the Freeway Landfill and Dump, which the MPCA says poses a future threat to the drinking water.
However, state environmental officials say the threat is being held-off today by geological impacts of a local limestone quarry.
The Kraemer Quarry
Kraemer Mining and Materials, which pumps out millions of gallons of groundwater each day in order to access the limestone, sits between the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill and the Freeway Landfill.
In addition to supplying drinking water to Burnsville and Savage, the pumping operation artificially suppresses the area’s water table, effectively buying time to clean-up the Freeway Landfill.
If the pumps were turned off and the natural conditions restored, the MPCA predicts the groundwater would rise and saturate the unlined Freeway waste, contaminating the water.
To clean-up the waste, the costly “dig-and-haul” method would completely remove the trash and carry it off to be landfilled somewhere else.
Under the “dig-and-line” scenario, the waste would be dug out, the landfill would be lined, and the waste would be dumped back in and sealed off.
While there’s two potential methods being explored to clean-up the Freeway Landfill, there’s currently no sign of any official talks to clean-up the unlined waste at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill — rather, the focus there, remains solely on expansion.
And while Burnsville officials have voiced support for Burnsville Sanitary Landfill’s expansion, the same officials are fiercely advocating for the complete removal of the Freeway Landfill.
Local officials have often linked their support for the expansion with their desire to "dig-and-haul" the Freeway Landfill for purposes of safeguarding the water supply and creating redevelopment opportunity around the river and future quarry lake.
However, the proposed expansion at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill is nearly four times greater than the capacity needed to hold the Freeway waste.
And the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill expansion does not guarantee the Minnesota Legislature will ultimately choose the dig-and-haul concept for the Freeway Landfill clean-up, although the two issues are often spoken about interconnectedly.
The Burnsville Planning Commission began their review of the expansion project during a public hearing on July 25.
The hearing was extended and will resume on Monday, Aug. 8.
At the first hearing, Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse urged Burnsville officials to require that unlined portions of the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill be lined before an expansion could take place on top — but even that step wouldn't alleviate all the concerns voiced by opponents of the expansion.
“If approved, this landfill will be here until the next glacial age — yet, the liners and other landfill technologies proposed to protect the public all have temporary lifespans," Busse said. "It's a ticking time bomb. Eventually, those liners will fail."
Speaking at the hearing, Michael Miller, with Waste Management, said the unlined portion of the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill spans roughly 88 acres, but much of the area is already buried underneath liners and fill.
“It essentially has a liner overtop of it, it just doesn’t have a liner on the underneath side," Miller said, adding a plan will be required by the MPCA to outline steps the landfill operators would take if any unexpected contamination event occurred.
The MPCA's environmental review of the proposed expansion found no impacts to the groundwater, but the review also acknowledged how the expansion "may impede any future corrective action" on unlined portions of the site.
The public comment period for the MPCA's draft expansion permit is ongoing.
The agency will host an in-person public information meeting regarding the plans on Wednesday, Aug. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at Burnsville City Hall.