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Delaware dump seeks ‘vertical expansion’ as it nears capacity but politicians cry foul

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The construction landfill just south of Wilmington has nearly reached its capacity of 130 feet in height, and the owners want the state to allow it to grow to 190 feet. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The construction landfill just south of Wilmington has nearly reached its capacity of 130 feet in height, and the owners want the state to allow it to grow to 190 feet. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

A construction landfill near Wilmington is nearing its height capacity, so the operators are seeking a “vertical expansion” to extend its life by at least a decade.

Some community groups support the proposal, but area politicians are staunch opponents.

The 146-acre site is in the unincorporated area of Minquadale, less than two miles from the city’s southern tip. The dump looms over several low- and middle-income communities.

The dump can’t legally grow any higher than the current 130 feet. So they have petitioned the state for permission to go to 190 feet.

Waste Management Inc. of Houston, Texas, owns the landfill. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The Waste Management Inc. facility has been operating for 34 years. It handles up to 2,400 tons of lumber, asphalt, yard waste and other debris a day. That’s just under five million pounds daily – all from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and New York.

The dump doesn’t accept general household garbage — that waste goes to the Cherry Island landfill for upstate residents. Nor will it take asbestos and liquid, chemical or medical waste.

Waste Management spokesman John Hambrose said the landfill would have to close if the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control doesn’t grant the petition. Officials from the state’s environmental regulator would not comment on the petition but Hambrose said the decision could take months.

The state has held a public hearing and will also be seeking written comments while weighing whether to grant or deny the application.

Hambrose said the landfill gets closer to capacity every day.

“This landfill without the expansion approval will be filled out within a year and without the approval all this waste will have to find somewhere else to go … which is going to make the trucks on the road driver farther,’’ said Hambrose.

“We believe it will inhibit development here and there because it’s going to be a larger-cost item when people decide whether they are going to renovate their kitchen, build their new home or maybe refurbish an office building.”

Hambrose said the landfill is a good neighbor that safely disposes of waste. He points to the support of some local civic groups the company has agreed to help with funding for pet projects.

A letter of support from the Minquadale Civic Association noted that the draft agreement with the landfill would “provide short- and long-term social and economic benefits’ and urged the state to give “prompt review and approval’’ of the expansion request.

Yet local politicians oppose the expansion. New Castle County is considering a bill that would essentially limit the height of landfills to 140 feet.

County Executive Matt Meyer supports that proposed ordinance, which would also create regulations in county law that require the impact on community health, safety, traffic and the environment be considered when landfill permits are filed. There is no timetable for a Council vote on the bill.

Meyer said Waste Management’s proposal “would allow a Cherry Island-sized mountain of trash, filled mostly with out-of-state waste, to tower over the neighborhood like a 20-story skyscraper. That would forever alter the character of the area and harm the quality of life of residents.”

Added Councilman Jea Street: “A landfill should never have been built in a neighborhood in the first place, and this latest attempt is totally unacceptable.”

State Rep. Franklin Cooke lives nearby of what he calls “the mountain.”

He said many residents in the low-and middle-income neighborhoods off U.S. 13 do not want more odors and noise and trucks and dust. He said cyclists along a new nature trail already complain that it’s unsightly.

State Rep. Franklin Cooke, a Democrat whose district includes the Minquadale, say “the mountain’’ is already too high and brings too much foul odors, dust and truck traffic. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

”The smell of this dump or landfill or whatever you want to call it is horrendous at times, especially when it rains and the dampness is in the air,’’ Cooke said as truck after truck rumbled up the road toward the summit.

“The dust and the traffic that comes over here is horrible to the people in this area, to those who are disenfranchised. They are always putting dumps in places like we have here. It’s about the people and they have had enough.”

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