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  • William Gunderson

Pt. 4 - Bethlehem Landfill: Not in My Backyard


As mentioned in Part 1 [read here], few of course, want to live next to a landfill, yet landfills are a necessary part of our society until we innovate a new way to handle all the waste we generate. Garbage must go somewhere – and readers likely put it out to the curb every week for someone else to deal with – we all do.


People not wanting something in their back yard is nothing new. No one wants a highway next to their house, but we all want faster and more convenient ways to get where we want to go. No one wants warehouses nearby, but we all expect our packages faster.


So, it’s not unreasonable to hear those living closest to the landfill saying they don’t want additional expansion – as they themselves put out tens of pounds of trash every week. Perhaps that argument should even be expected – but trash must go somewhere.

lower-saucon-overlay-map

What is easily lost in this strawman argument is that the large majority of Lower Saucon Township does not live near the landfill simply due to the landfill’s sequestered location. In fact, you probably could not find a more remote location to put in within the Township.


Further, the area is already highly industrialized and has been for a century-and-a-half, dating back to the Bethlehem Iron Works. The landfill is nestled among highly industrialized operations including warehouses in the LVIP industrial park, a railway intermodal, the Calpine electricity generating plant, the Bethlehem Wastewater Treatment Plant, and others.


As was highlighted in Part 2 [read here], Lower Saucon Township receives 30% of its annual revenue from Bethlehem Landfill. No one wants to pay more taxes. We all dispose of trash, every single week. No matter how dirty and disgusting, somewhere to put that trash is a necessary evil of society. So perhaps our best option is to effectively manage these necessary facilities.


Perhaps the best example of that type of effective management is highlighted in the newly negotiated Host Agreement, which can be read about in Part 3 [read here]. To quickly summarize those changes, not only has more total acreage been permanently preserved and protected, but the average “disturbed distance” to the Lehigh River has also been “pushed back” more than 35% away from the river. All while increasing the monetary and services benefits to the Township.


Finally, the Township has a huge potential to contribute to the greater Lehigh Valley’s ever-increasing energy needs. As many know, landfills create methane gas as a byproduct of the decomposition process. Per the Environmental Protection Agency, “using landfill gas (LFG) to generate energy and reduce methane emissions produces positive outcomes for local communities and the environment” (source). The EPA also estimates that LFG energy projects can “capture roughly 60 to 90 percent of the methane emitted from the landfill”.


The new host agreement guarantees the Township a portion of the revenue from the sale of that methane gas. The landfill gas, by many predictions, will continue for 30 years or more after the last trash is deposited. Accordingly, including the 18-year lifespan of benefits from this expansion, the income benefits to the Township will continue for almost half-a-century, or perhaps longer.


So, the question must be raised – why would the vast majority of LST taxpayers not want to drastically reduce their annual tax burden, with steady DEP oversight and limited environmental impact, both now and for the next half-century?

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