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  • William Gunderson

Pt. 3 - Bethlehem Landfill: Council Approves Easements & Host Agreement


During its August 30, 2023, meeting, Lower Saucon Township Council approved several resolutions related to lands owned by and adjacent to the Bethlehem Landfill. The following is Part 3 in the series. You can read the previous installments by clicking here - Part 1 - Part 2.

Item 5. B: Consideration of Adoption of Ordinance 2023-05 Revising Chapter 180 (Zoning).

The first major change was the rezoning of 275 acres, which passed 3 to 2 (DeLeon & Yerger, no). What the zoning changes do is simply change zoning districts of parcels immediately surrounding the landfill, from rural RA (rural agriculture) to LI (light industrial) – nothing more.


Yes, these zoning changes will allow Bethlehem Landfill to submit applications consistent with the LI zoning designation under a permitted use – but the assumption that an additional 275 acres will become landfill is just not factual. Neither is the notion that the zoning change will allow the Bethlehem Landfill to expand without scrutiny, from both the Township and, most importantly, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP).


In fact, per details of the new agreement, only 86 of the 275 acres will be used for active operations. Those 86 acres represent almost 30% less than the original amount proposed for active operations. In fact, the proposed expansion’s total footprint in the Township is miniscule. Consider that 86 acres is equivalent to 0.134 square miles of the Township’s 24.3 total square miles – or 0.53% of the entire Township’s area.

Along with these zoning changes, several new (permanent) easements were also approved by Council by a 4 to 1 vote (DeLeon, no) to help further “buffer” the landfill and protect the Lehigh River.

Council President Jason Banonis explained the new easements by stating, “the total of these new properties to be conserved, the total of that acreage is 97.13 acres. And then when you add in the additional acreage that is the “after part” for the Reddington and Helms tracts, the total of all these proposed conservation easements in 193.13 total acres, which is almost identical to the number that was previously preserved.”

Readers should also note two facts: 1) that the pre-preserved easements were incomplete, in that they were formed in a way that allowed those easements to be modified or removed entirely, and 2) that Lower Saucon Township never owned any portions of the Helms and/or Reddington tracts.

Solicitor Lincoln Treadwell confirmed the statement by President Banonis, stating “yes, if Council approves these transactions, Lower Saucon Township, in the end, ends up with 193.13 acres of more fully conserved [land] with the potential for 3rd party enforcement”.

But perhaps most notable, regarding land preservation and protection, several of these new easements will also cover areas especially adjacent to the Lehigh River and Steel City.

Click to enlarge

For comparison purposes, the 1998 Host Agreement resulted in a 966-foot averaged distance of disturbed areas from the Lehigh River. The proposed Host Agreement for 2023 increases that distance to an average of 1,299-feet from the Lehigh River – close to a 35% increase in additional, protected space along the river.

Item 5. C: Review and possible action on Resolution 58-2023 revising the Host Community Agreement with the Bethlehem Landfill

According to details related to the new Host Agreement approved by Council, several specific benefits and other services would be made available to Township residents.

Related to Township revenue, the new agreement would see host payments to the Township raised from $6.90 per ton to $11.00 per ton for municipal waste and $13.75 (up from $9.97) for Form U (residual) waste. These changes will result in Bethlehem Landfill having the highest tipping fee, by far, in the entire Commonwealth of PA. This all results in a projected $72 million for the Township over the 18 years from when DEP provides final approval. $72 million that Lower Saucon residents and taxpayers will not need to pay to fund their municipal government.

Additionally, Lower Saucon would receive a guarantee for the lowest municipal rate for Township waste. Township residents would also receive annual Spring and Fall clean-up services at no charge, which will help to keep the community looking clean and tidy. Also, in return, the Township will receive the right to lease over 130 acres of closed landfill waste for $10, opening future options for Township recreation and/or revenue options for these areas.

Finally, as part of the newly proposed host agreement, a Property Value Protection Plan (PVPP) for neighboring property owners will be offered at 15%. This program guarantees adjacent homeowners who opt into the program the current value of their homes and guards against reduction in the property values. The PVPP, in fact, is so significant, that it provides guaranteed protection 15% greater than the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s (LVPC) projected property value decrease calculation. In the end, adjacent property owners not only have the option to lock in protections for their property values, but they are also guaranteed a premium well above LVPC’s predictions.

Check back for Part 4 – “Not In My Backyard.”



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