Burnsville Sanitary Landfill

Burnsville Sanitary Landfill at 2650 Cliff Road West.

The state released final environmental review findings Tuesday tied to a massive landfill expansion under review in Burnsville, commencing the review’s last public comment period and clearing the path for permitting.

It’s been over two years since the Burnsville City Council voted unanimously to advance a concept plan for a 23.6 million-cubic-yard expansion at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill operated by Waste Management.

The expansion is projected to keep the landfill operating until 2062.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency published its final supplemental environmental impact statement (FSEIS) regarding the project this month.

The environmental review does not approve or deny the project, but it’s a major procedural hurdle required by state law.

While the review determined the expansion would have “no impact on groundwater,” the findings come with a catch.

While the expansion itself doesn’t increase risks of groundwater contamination, the environmental review found the project could prevent future clean-ups of other contaminants found at the landfill, which could ultimately impact the groundwater.

A brief history

The Burnsville Sanitary Landfill began its operations in 1962 before regulations required a synthetic liner be installed underneath the waste.

The Freeway Landfill and Dump, roughly two miles east, began operating without a liner during the same decade.

The Freeway Landfill closed in 1990, but the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill kept pace with changing laws and modernized its site to continue accepting waste with the addition of liners and leachate collection systems.

However, the unlined portion of the landfill remains.

At the same time the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill is under review for expansion, the Freeway sites are under review for a clean-up project.

State environmental officials say the unlined waste at the Freeway Landfill threatens water quality, but the contamination risk is held-off by water pumping operations at a nearby quarry.

How it works

Kraemer Mining and Materials, which borders both the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill and the Freeway Landfill, pumps out millions of gallons of groundwater each day in order to mine limestone.

The pumping operation provides municipal water supply to Burnsville and Savage, and it also artificially lowers the area’s water table.

State environmental officials say the lowered water table prevents water from coming into contact with the unlined waste at Freeway Landfill.

However, the MPCA projects the unlined waste will become saturated by groundwater — posing a water contamination threat — if the pumping stops before the unlined waste is cleaned-up at the Freeway sites.

So, what about the unlined waste at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill?

The state’s modeling predicts the water table may also come into contact with the unlined waste at Burnsville Sanitary Landfill when the quarry ceases pumping operations.

According to the MPCA, the waste proposed to be added in the expansion would be placed in lined, modern-day waste cells. However, some of those cells are proposed to be placed on top of the existing unlined portions of the landfill.

The environmental review determined the water table already periodically reaches the unlined portions of the landfill during flooding on the Minnesota River, but “no significant changes” in groundwater quality have been noted during flooding.

The environmental review also states the proposed expansion doesn’t increase risks to groundwater quality, partially because the expansion itself wouldn’t change the depth or span of unlined portions, or impact the flow of groundwater.

But the report does acknowledge indirect risks of piling new waste on top of the unlined waste.

If the groundwater contamination related to the unlined waste occurred, the expansion may “impede corrective action,” the review states.

Bloomington officials say it’s a bad idea

“The unlined waste is a major concern for the city of Bloomington,” said Glen Markegard, the city’s planning manager.

In an interview Tuesday, Markegard called it “short-sighted” to expand a landfill within the Minnesota River Valley.

“It’s a permanent facility,” he emphasized. “It’ll be there until the next glacial age.”

Since 2019, Bloomington officials have pushed back on the expansion plans, while Burnsville officials have supported the project, which ties into the city’s vision for redevelopment of the Freeway sites along the riverfront.

This summer, Bloomington officials asked the MPCA to order the clean-up of unlined waste at Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, in addition to cleaning up the Freeway sites.

Matt Croaston, a communications strategist with the MPCA, said the agency does have the authority to order corrective actions, including clean-ups.

“During the permitting process, the unique site characteristics and additional data needs will be evaluated and used to determine if and what clean up or corrective actions may be needed,” Croaston wrote in an email to Southwest News Media. “So, removing the waste from the unlined cells could be an option, if there is potential risk to warrant it.”

The FSEIS public comment period closes Dec. 24. Once the MPCA signs-off on the environmental review, the path will be clear for Waste Management to seek necessary permits.

Permitting authorities for the landfill expansion include the MPCA, the city of Burnsville, Dakota County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Lower Minnesota River Watershed District.

Emissions impact explained

The expansion proposed at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill is expected to generate new annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 18,800 passenger vehicles.

Yet, the majority of the household waste sent to the landfill doesn’t need to be there, according to an analysis of the waste stream.

The environmental review found nearly half of landfilled material is organics, such as food waste. Another 20% is recyclable materials.

Like many of the metro area’s waste management facilities, the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill will reach capacity in the next couple of years without an expansion.

However, the waste landfilled in Burnsville could be diverted to other facilities, such as the Central Disposal Landfill in Winnebago, Iowa and the Pine Bend Landfill in Inver Grove Heights.