New county law could thwart Delaware landfill’s ‘vertical expansion’

Listen 0:53
WHYY visited the top of the landfill in June. Waste Management Inc. wants state approval for a 'vertical expansion' from 130 to 190 feet, but New Castle County’s new law would cap landfill height at 140 feet. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

WHYY visited the top of the landfill in June. Waste Management Inc. wants state approval for a 'vertical expansion' from 130 to 190 feet, but New Castle County’s new law would cap landfill height at 140 feet. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

A landfill in Delaware for construction and demolition debris wants to grow a lot taller — a bid that has angered politicians and environmentalists.

But the New Castle County Council has dealt the plan a blow.

Waste Management Inc. says it needs a “vertical expansion” to 190 feet to stay in business at its site off U.S. 13, south of Wilmington. So the company has petitioned state environmental regulators to grow.

The mound of waste that can be seen from Interstate 95 is currently approaching its legal capacity of 130 feet.

Downtown Wilmington is just a few miles north of the landfill. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

But while Waste Management awaits a decision by the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the county government has acted to thwart the bid.

The new law that passed unanimously Tuesday night limits the landfill to 140 feet and only if Waste Management can clear new hurdles. For example, an applicant must cite the proposal’s benefits, impact on the health of nearby residents as well as traffic, noise, visual blight, storm water, wastewater discharge and flooding.

County Executive Matt Meyer advocated for the legislation and pointed out that most of the waste comes not from Delaware construction but from nearby states.

“There’s a policy decision about what do we want our economic future to be,” Meyer told WHYY. “Is there a goal to be the landfill for the region to continue dumping? I think it’s time for those other jurisdictions to pick some of the burden for their own construction waste.

Spokesman John Hambrose says Waste Management will have to stop accepting more debris in less than two years under the new law, which he said the company plans to challenge in court.

“We’re disappointed but not surprised,’’ Hambrose said. “This legislation targets one business – our landfill in New Castle – and we believe it unlawfully restricts or attempts to restrict interstate commerce.”

Meyer said the county is prepared for a legal fight.

“It’s a good day for New Castle County,’’ he said. “The council came together with the community to pass something unanimously in the face of furious opposition from a $50 billion dollar corporation to preserve our environment, our land, our air, our water.”

Waste Management’s construction and demolition landfill is located off U.S. 13 near Minquadale. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Hambrose said that if the landfill has to shut its doors, that local contractors and homeowners would have to take their waste to the Cherry Island landfill, which is more expensive. That would increase the cost of home construction and renovation, he said.

But Meyer countered that Cherry Island, located to the north, off Interstate 495 near the Port of Wilmington, has plenty of capacity. Cherry Island accepts garbage and other traditional home waste as well as construction debris.

Dustyn Thompson of the Sierra Club of Delaware said Waste Management has been undercutting Cherry Island on disposal prices to gain more business.

Thompson also said the county’s vote could signal a new day for environmental protection in Delaware.

“This is a first step in a comprehensive approach to ensuring that our environment is protected and that public health is also protected,’’ Thompson said.

“This sends a message that perhaps now finally the tide will turn and that our state government will put their health and their concerns over the interests of private companies.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.