BURNSVILLE — Unearthing 6 million cubic yards of waste from inactive landfills isn’t a job for everyone, but Kraemer Mining and Minerals wants to make a deal to clean up the Freeway landfill and dump sites.
Millions of cubic yards of trash sit at the sites without linings, meaning only dirt and rock lie between the waste and the Minnesota River and Jordan Aquifer. State officials say the situation poses serious risks to people and the environment and have spent decades working to fix the issue.
John Rivisto, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer with Kraemer, said the answer is simple: Kraemer could use their private road to haul the waste excavated from Freeway Landfill over to the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill. They’ll also dig up and haul the waste at Freeway Dump on the other side of Interstate 35.
Then Kraemer would mine the bedrock underneath the waste — eliminating the possibility of leftover contaminates while also unearthing valuable limestone.
The end result, which Burnsville city leaders have supported, would eventually be a massive redevelopment project of parks, businesses and residences along the Minnesota River with a 100-foot-deep quarry lake at the center.
But the plan is also complicated. A feasibility report published this month found such a cleanup could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I’ve been working on this for six years, and the costs just keep going up,” Kirk Koudelka, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency assistant commissioner with the agency, told Rep. Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage, and other members of the House Capital Investment Division during their visit to the sites earlier this month.
Property owner Mike McGowan has also opposed the idea, saying his family is being treated unfairly by state officials. The sites don’t need to be cleaned, he told the legislators, and his family should be able to develop the land.
Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, originally owned by the Kraemer family, is also unlined in parts near the river, McGowan said, and the city allowed another landfill in the area to develop into a mini storage and a car dealership.
A landfill south of the Freeway Dump holds an unknown amount of waste, according to a recent report conducted by Barr Engineering on behalf of the Pollution Control Agency.
Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said the city’s main goal is the protection of water resources, but she also hopes for a path forward that supports economic development.
State environmental officials said they hope to finalize the details of the cleanup in the next couple of years.
Once a plan is decided, the agency would begin preparing design and bid documents. Bids will be posted for options to excavate the trash and haul it elsewhere or to add a liner and put it back.
The decision to move forward with a cleanup will be based on state support and available money.
Adding a liner to the existing landfill could cost between $97 million and $107 million, according to the agency’s feasibility report. Hauling the waste off-site is expected to cost between $181 million and $611 million.
Rivisto said Kraemer’s plan to haul the waste would cost around the same as the state’s dig-and-line option because it plans to use larger trucks on its private road rather than freeway-compliant trucks traveling public roads.
A long history
The Freeway Dump, just northeast of the interstate and Cliff Road interchange, holds an estimated 790,000 cubic yards of waste spanning 34 acres.
The dump began accepting ash from a nearby power plant around 1960 and later took in construction and municipal solid waste until it closed in 1969. It remained mostly unused until 1993, when a driving range opened.
Freeway Landfill, Kraemer’s immediate neighbor to the north, holds an estimated 5.3 million cubic yards of waste spanning 140 acres. It began accepting waste in 1969 under a Burnsville permit and, two years later, a state permit.
Landfill regulations changed in the 1970s and 1980s to require liners and caps for new landfills in response to new knowledge about environmental contamination and associated risks.
In 1986, the Superfund National Priorities List added the landfill, and the McGowans were told they needed to upgrade their facility or stop accepting waste. It closed in 1990.
The landfill was eventually covered with 2 feet of soil, and eight gas-monitoring probes were installed. The Transfer Station, a waste processing, recycling and hauling facility, opened for business one year after the landfill closed for good.
The waste is believed to extend beyond the site to underneath a nearby salt storage and barge unloading facility along the river to the north, according to a feasibility study completed this month on behalf of the state agency.
Water pumping at the Kraemer quarry, approximately 8.4 million gallons per day on average, captures groundwater in the aquifer beneath the site, keeping the water table lower than it would be otherwise, according to the report. The waste isn’t generally in contact with groundwater except for its northern edge.
Rivisto said it’s hard to know when mining operations will end — the company has applied for a permit to expand their mining footprint — but said it could be roughly 30-35 years.
Models predict the water table will rise and eventually saturate the waste once Kraemer Quarry operations and pumping cease.
McGowan, son of Freeway’s original owner, Richard McGowan, said the family commissioned two studies back in the ‘80s by two independent engineering groups that concluded Freeway Landfill would have no impact on the environment.
Walker Smith, a spokesperson with the Pollution Control Agency, said the agency stands by its findings that uncontrolled methane gas from the decomposing trash and the eventual water saturation of the trash pose serious risks.
Burnsville Sanitary Landfill looks to expand
In March, the Burnsville City Council approved a concept plan to increase the waste capacity at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill by 26 million cubic yards. City leaders and officials with Waste Management have said the size increase could give the Freeway waste somewhere to go.
The Pollution Control Agency expects to wrap up an environmental review of the proposed expansion in February. According to the study’s final scoping document released this month, the review will cover the proposal’s liner and leachate collection system and possible impacts to groundwater, surface water and air quality.
It’ll also illustrate the proposal’s visual impact with renderings from several vantage points including the Minnesota River Bluff in Bloomington and the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Lastly, the review will look into how feasible and expensive it would be to take the area’s projected waste somewhere else.
Several local residents said they opposed the expansion proposal at a public meeting in July, adding they worried the size increase would be approved without a promise of the Freeway sites being cleaned up. The expansion request is roughly 20 million cubic yards more than the volume of waste at the Freeway sites.
Another public hearing related to the expansion request is scheduled for December.