BURNSVILLE — Newly approved concept plans to greatly increase waste capacity at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill could help address groundwater contamination risks for Savage and Burnsville but could also leave the landfill mound towering taller than even the region’s ski hills.

The Burnsville City Council voted unanimously this week to approve a concept stage planned unit development to consolidate three landfills into one by digging up the waste at the nearby Freeway Landfill and Freeway Dump sites and hauling it over to the active Burnsville Sanitary Landfill site. The active site sits along the Minnesota River at 2650 Cliff Road West.

The plans also call for Burnsville Sanitary Landfill’s elevation allowance to increase to around 370 feet.

The Burnsville Sanitary Landfill is a Waste Management facility that collects mostly local municipal solid waste — the garbage in trash cans — and various other types of non-hazardous waste such as construction and demolition debris.

According to Deb Garross, Bursville’s planning manager, the landfill owners were not required to submit a concept plan to the city before starting the process with state agencies but sought the city’s vote to show local support of the idea.

Back in the 1960s, the Freeway Landfill was placed on a wetland — something that wouldn’t be permitted by today’s standards.

Garross says the plan is a possible solution to the longstanding need to clean up the Freeway sites, which pose environmental risks because they’re unlined and filled with hazardous waste. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s negotiations with Freeway Landfill ownership to investigate and conduct a clean-up of the site spans decades.

If the issue isn’t resolved soon, officials say the site poses a threat to groundwater. The groundwater level currently sits below the hazardous waste because of water pumping for nearby mining operations. If mining stopped and the water levels rose, the waste could become saturated and contaminate drinking water and the rivers.

Map of area

The Freeway Landfill accepted trash from 1969 to 1990. By today’s standards, it would not be allowed to operate on a wetland.

Garross said the consolidation would reduce the overall footprint of landfills in the area and eventually create an opportunity for recreational and residential development.

Many residents weren’t convinced.

Savage resident Jake Swaggert pointed to odor and environmental threats and described the proposal as a “huge grass-covered mountain of trash.”

“This land is going to be completely useless,” he said.

Glen Markegard, Bloomington Planning Manager, said the vast majority of the height and volume of the new landfill would be new waste rather than material from the Freeway sites. The proposed capacity increase is around 77 percent greater than would be needed to transfer all of their waste.

Mound rendering

A rendering created by the City of Bloomington using Google Earth illustrates concerns that the landfill mound would become the dominant visual feature of the Minnesota River Valley.

Markegard also raised concerns about the mound during a major flood.

Bloomington City Manager James Verbrugge stated in a letter to local officials that the additional 26 million cubic yards would be over seven times the volume of the largest pyramid in Egypt.

“Ultimately, we want residents and visitors to appreciate, enjoy and remember the Minnesota River Valley and Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge for its accessible active and passive outdoor recreation, environmental assets, and natural beauty,” Verbrugge wrote. “Not for a 362 foot tall landfill mound.”

Savage city officials have stayed out of the issue.

“We don’t have a stance,” Savage City Administration Brad Larson said. “I do understand both sides.”

He said the city’s main interest is in preserving water quality and capacity at the Kraemer Quarry, where Savage currently receives 80 to 90 percent of its water supply.

The Burnsville concept plan outlines a partnership with Kraemer to dig and haul the Freeway landfill garbage to the expanded site and then mine the limestone and possibly contaminated bedrock.

Burnsville councilmember Dan Kealey said the plan approval is about “vehemently” protecting the area’s drinking water.

“We will do whatever it takes, and we will not apologize,” he said.

Kealey said the concept plan is the best proposal they’ve seen and is preferred to the pollution control agency’s proposed solution, which involves adding liners to the Freeway sites rather than eliminating them.

Burnsville officials say a final plan is years down the road, and the concept plan will be vetted by various state agencies and levels of review before moving into a development stage.

Christine Schuster is a reporter for the Savage Pacer.

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