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New Castle County to modify proposed landfill limits

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

County land use staff and council members plan to make proposed legislation that would prevent expansion of a New Castle landfill more stringent.



At a packed New Castle County Planning Board hearing Tuesday, county land use officials said they intend to add stricter provisions to an ordinancethat would limit the height of landfills. 


It is the only active legislative effort to prevent the controversial Delaware Recyclable Products, Inc. (DRPI) landfill in West Minquadale from expanding vertically from 130 to 190 feet above sea level.  A similar bill in the General Assembly passed the House in June, but was not considered by the Senate before the start of the current legislative recess.


County Councilman Dave Carter says concerns that surfaced since the county proposal was written, including about the DRPI landfill’s potential impact on groundwater, led him to seek to strengthen the measure. He wants to lower the maximum allowable height under the draft ordinance from its current 140 feet — and add language about overall landfill bulk, setbacks and buffers.

Currently, the proposed legislation would only apply to the DRPI landfill, but Carter sees it as proactively constricting any future landfills in the county, which he says would likely be placed in southern New Castle County. 


The DRPI landfill’s bid for expansion is pending before the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). County officials say state environmental permits must comply with county-level zoning. 


At the planning board hearing Tuesday, Artesian Water company representatives spoke in favor of the proposed county limits, repeating concerns about the landfill they’ve raised in comments submitted to DNREC. 


Karl Randall, general counsel for Artesian Resources Corporation, said the landfill sits on top of the Potomac Aquifer, a source of drinking water. He said in the event of a vertical expansion, compaction of existing waste could cause liquid to seep out of an unlined portion of the landfill that precedes Waste Management’s ownership. He compared the landfill to a tube of toothpaste. 


“If you squeeze the top, it’s coming out the bottom,” he said. “The bottom is our water source.”


Representatives from environmental and social justice-oriented advocacy organizations as well as elected officials including State Rep. Frank Cooke and State Sen. Laura Sturgeon supported the draft county legislation, many citing concerns over drinking water. 


Donna Moller lives in Minquadale, near the landfill. “I heard a lot of things in there today that I’m so traumatized about,” she said while leaving the hearing Tuesday. “Like my water. I don’t use the water to drink it … but that’s not the point. The point is I use it to shower.”


But Waste Management representatives call the aspersions about groundwater risks “speculation.”


They dispute Artesian’s assessment of groundwater flow below the landfill, saying any hypothetical leachate from the landfill would flow north to the Christina River, rather than south to several of Artesian’s community wellfields. And they say decades of testing show the landfill is not degrading groundwater quality.


Company representatives also urged against making the draft county legislation stricter. Company spokesman John Hambrose opposes it entirely.


“The ordinance is going to put 15 people out of work,” he said. “This is going to have a big ripple effect through the economy. All the spending we do in the area with people who supply us with goods and services, that ends.”


Hambrose has said that if the landfill is not able to expand, it could fill up and be forced to close in about a year. 


Dan Hahn, president of Wilmington-based Furness Electric, testified against the proposed county limits. He said many of the electricians employed by his business have worked on the DRPI landfill over the years. 

“DRPI’s health and ability to expand and thrive has an impact on so many Delaware businesses and citizens,” he said. 


County officials hope to send the proposed legislation for a council vote on Aug. 27.


This story has been corrected to more accurately reflect the status of HB 212 in the General Assembly.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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