The Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority (GLRA) has begun work on its Heilmandale expansion project, which will lengthen the landfill’s life by 15 years and extend its usability from the current expected expiration date of 2024 to 2039.
Given that the Heilmandale project will occur over the next 10 to 15 years, GLRA officials do not have an exact price tag for project costs.
The expansion project consists of the vertical construction of six pads (a designated area to deposit trash, also known as cells) on existing disposal sites spread across a 47-acre footprint, two new leachate pump stations (to handle the liquid that drains or “leaches” from the landfill), the relocation of the landfill’s gas flare (known as a LFG, used to safely dispose of flammable material), and the erection of a new storage building and new electronics recycling center.
Although construction can’t begin until the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approves GLRA’s required permits, the authority has started working on project areas outside the purview of the permitting process, according to Skip Garner, Executive Director, GLRA.
“There’s engineering that needs to be done for the relocation of the electronics waste recycling facility,” Garner said. “That work is not complete, but it has started. There is engineering work to relocate the flare, and that has started. And then there is already, approved by DEP, an extension of (three) groundwater interceptor lines in the area of the planned landfill extension. Although already approved, that work has not been undertaken yet.”
James Zendek, P.E., Senior Staff Engineer, GLRA, said his department is also working on a plan to excavate existing waste from the future site of pad 8, an old unlined portion of the landfill, and move it across the street to the Schilling landfill, which is the only pad where incoming refuse is currently being deposited.
Although the Heilmandale project is officially called an extension, Zendek notes that the terminology may be misleading.
“I think the more accurate term is that it is a piggybacking project,” Zendek said. “The reason it is not expanding the landfill is it’s being built on top of an old landfill, so we are not increasing the footprint [onto greenfield].”
GLRA was required by law to file Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permits five years before capacity would be reached at the Schilling site. That led GLRA to file the permits in 2018 with an expected close date of the Schilling site in late 2023 or early 2024.
Having completed its portion of Phase 1 requirements, which included conducting several public information-gathering meetings and providing data to DEP, GLRA officials now await agency approval.
John Repetz, DEP Press Secretary, wrote in an email response that the agency hopes to complete Phase 1 of the permitting process by the end of 2020.
Repetz noted that Phase 1 requires a detailed environmental assessment of the proposed expansion area, including a review of the geology, groundwater, soils, and isolation distances to ensure any potential environmental issues are identified before the project begins.
The email also said: “The Department conducts a Harms/Benefit Analysis for any harms that remain, and the benefits of the project to the public must clearly outweigh the known and potential environmental harms for the Department to complete a review of the application. As part of the public participation process, the DEP Waste Management Program conducted both a public meeting and a public hearing in early 2019 regarding the Heilmandale expansion application. The Department also accepts written comments as part of the public participation process.”
It was during the information-gathering portion of Phase 1 that nearby residents Wayne Kauffman and David Koons expressed concerns over environmental impacts and other issues that may bring unwanted change to their neighborhood. Both men live on Heilmandale Road near the landfill.
They cited possible air and groundwater contamination and wondered if out-of-county trash haulers are dumping — or will start to deposit — their trash at the North Lebanon Township landfill.
“Most of us [local residents] are in agreement that you aren’t going to stop it because you have to have somewhere to take your trash,” Kauffman said. “But let’s use the best technology we have to get the smell under control. Let’s have a plan upfront to address these issues.”
Garner said odor emissions are addressed by the Municipal Solid Waste Landfill Permit PADEP Permit Number 101544 and Title V – Air Operating Permit, Permit No. 38-05017.
“I’d like to think that we have a really good handle on our landfill gas management,” Garner said. “Landfill gas is a source of many, many odors … Landfill gas is a serious source and I’d like to think that we have a very effective landfill gas management system and we control the gas very, very well.”
Repetz wrote that “DEP does not have a quantifiable way to measure nuisance odors. The department however is fully aware of the nuisances odor cause, and investigates odor complaints.”
While there may not be a state mandate to regulate odor, there are ways to control it. One method to mitigate the methane created by landfills is to capture it and then use that energy to create electricity.
The Energy Power Partners’ landfill gas-to-energy power plant is located onsite and uses the methane from landfill gases to spin turbines that create electricity, which is then sold to the electric grid, Zendek said.
This partnership generates approximately $4,000 monthly for the landfill, Garner said. About $1,000 is earned monthly from energy generation and generally another $3,000 from carbon credits that are sold on the open market. The actual amount of revenue generated by selling carbon credits varies due to fluctuations in the market.
Garner said that for the 12-month period between April 2018 and March 2019, GLRA generated 22,958 credits. One credit, he said, is equivalent to the elimination of one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions.
Zendek said GLRA also regularly monitors landfill gas emissions.
“Our landfill gas technician does a quarterly surface emissions testing for landfill gas, walking the entire site with a piece of testing equipment, and testing the air to see if we are emitting in any areas 500 parts per million of methane gas from our landfill site,” Zendek said.
Garner added that the quarterly inspections require testing 2.5 centimeters from the surface of the landfill and noted that the authority also does “daily site inspections and daily perimeter inspections of our properties” to ensure gas emissions are within acceptable levels.
When told that strong odors are present offsite at other landfills around Pennsylvania, Garner replied: “I am confident that if you come to our landfill today, or next week or next year, you would not get that kind of odor. We are a small landfill, well-managed, we control the gas, and you would not just get that kind of odor. I drive around the landfill at least once a day, and I do smell garbage right by where it is dumped, just like you do when you take your garbage can out to the curb, but offsite I have not detected any odors.”
Concerning the issue of groundwater contamination, Garner said the authority has a number of processes in place to ensure this doesn’t happen.
When a pad is first constructed, authority officials must follow strict regulations to ensure leachate does not get into the groundwater.
During construction of a pad, a clay sub-base is installed, followed by two layers of a HDTE (high-density polyethylene) liner, which is added over the clay sub-base and followed by two feet of stone to protect the top liner.
“The liner system is a double-liner system,” Garner said. “The first liner, or the top liner, collects the leachate, which is then drained into double-walled piping that transmits the leachate to a pump station so it can be sent offsite for treatment.”
The second liner houses the leachate detection zone. This zone is tested quarterly to detect any liquid that may be present in the second liner. The double-liner system, Garner added, does its job.
“We’ve been working under a double-lined landfill system now for upward to 25 to 30 years and we haven’t found any significant leachate penetration into the secondary liner,” Garner said. “So, in other words, [groundwater contamination] just doesn’t happen.”
Since the six pads to be constructed will be on existing landfills, or brownfields, some of the trash within those pads (numbered 8-13) must be moved so the new liners can be installed. These pads, originally constructed in the 1960s and 70s, do not contain any liners.
GLRA also has a groundwater monitoring system, consisting of 44 onsite wells that are up-, down-, and side-gradient, that are tested quarterly to detect the presence of contaminants. This step is in addition to the offsite testing of wells owned by the approximate 20 to 30 residents whose properties are adjacent to GLRA property.
“I gotta tell you that we are a small landfill but we have 44 wells,” Garner said. “That’s a lot more than many, many much bigger landfills, so ours is a very secure system.”
Repetz said adjacent landowner groundwater monitoring is authorized by Section 1103 of Act 1988 101, which describes water supply testing for landowners which border on a landfill.
The section contains four subsections that address required water sampling, the extent of analysis on the water that’s tested, additional sampling requirements, and written notice of rights.
Resident David Koons said that he and his wife have periodically noticed the smell of rotten eggs coming from the bathroom faucet and believes it may be caused by the landfill due to groundwater contamination. (Koons’ property does not border the landfill.)
Garner said this is a common mistake made by homeowners who live in a geographical region whose soil is rich with iron ore.
“What I believe to be the source of that rotten egg smell is hydrogen sulfide,” Garner said. “The cause of that is iron, which is present throughout the region. In fact, Cornwall was an iron mine because of the region’s good mineral resources.”
He explained that iron deposits sit in a hot water heater, and bacteria within digests the iron, creating hydrogen sulfide, the source of the marsh gas or rotten egg odor.
Another issue of concern to Kauffman is where GLRA trash is being generated. Kauffman said he had asked GLRA officials in the past how they ensure that trash being dumped at the local landfill was generated in Lebanon County and said he was told that landfill officials didn’t know.
“I said, ‘I see a lot of trucks here and I don’t recognize the names on the trucks,’” Kauffman said. “When I asked whether they’ve taken any out-of-county trash, they said, ‘No.’ And I asked, ‘How do you know? What do you have in place to know for sure?’ ‘Well, we don’t know. There is no way to monitor it.’ They are simply assuming they are not getting out-of-county trash.”
While Kauffman said it is easy to ascertain that trash haulers are not coming from out-of-state haulers, he wonders about refuse haulers located in nearby counties.
“The ones that are in Dauphin County, Schuylkill County, Berks County and Lancaster County, how do you monitor them? You can’t,” Kauffman said. “There is a company that comes here that is York-based. How do you know that their trucks aren’t bringing in trash from other counties?”
Garner confirmed the authority does not accept any trash from other states, saying staff would refuse large transfer trailers that haul out-of-state trash from entering landfill property. He also said the landfill has controls in place to ensure that trash being accepted at the landfill originated in Lebanon County.
“What we do to ensure we get only Lebanon County waste and not from other counties is that we have signed agreements that say [haulers] will abide by our flow control,” Garner said. “And they have to tell us where the flow came from when they pull on the scale. They will tell us Cornwall Borough or North Lebanon Township or whatever. They need to tell us where that load comes from.”
Kauffman said he has seen trucks with non-county addresses printed on the side of their vehicles, an observation that Garner said is true.
“We have (various) haulers that serve the region,” Garner said, “and the best example of that is Waste Management. They work in Schuylkill County, Dauphin County, York County. They have three hauling companies that serve the entire region. One is based in Lancaster, one is based in Camp Hill (Dauphin County), and one is based in Coal Township (Schuylkill County). Those trucks serve Lebanon County.”
DEP told LebTown the GLRA only accepts waste from Lebanon County, enforces the flow of waste in Lebanon County and has records of the waste received for verification.
GLRA is also regulated in the volume of trash it can accept at the landfill, according to Zendek, who added that no request has been made to DEP to increase the volume of trash the landfill will receive as part of the Heilmandale project.
“Our requirement is that over the course of a quarter of the year that the average tons that come in per day has to be less than 750 tons,” Zendek said. “And then the second part of that requirement is that on any given day, we can’t take more than 1,100 tons. That’s our requirement right now. DEP checks us on those numbers and comes and inspects us monthly, checking our daily records to make sure we don’t exceed those levels.”
As the Heilmandale expansion moves forward, GLRA officials believe they are on firm financial ground to cover project costs. There are no current plans to increase tipping fees — especially after they were raised to $72 per ton on Jan. 1, 2020.
When asked, however, how much the Heilmandale project is expected to cost, Garner said the authority does not have an exact price tag for it.
“Costs are tough to forecast and if I were smart enough to predict it within $100,000, I’d be working on Wall Street,” he said. “We did get a forecast for construction, and I believe it is $6-7 million for the first cell. That is the most expensive portion of the construction phase since we have initial infrastructure costs associated with construction of the first cell.”
Garner added that construction on the first cell of the expansion project is expected to start in 2022 or 2023, pending DEP approval of its permits.
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