Landfills would never win a beauty contest. Not even when they’re closed and capped. They don’t have to remain ugly ducklings, however. With money and imagination, the land can be converted to other uses.
Here are some new landfill reclamation projects that have just started and a cautionary tale of one that didn’t work.
Kearney, New Jersey
New Jersey has planned the largest landfill remediation in the state since the Superfund programs of the 1980s and 1990s.
The Kearney landfill, built in the 1970s, has been leaking leachate into the adjacent Passaic River and methane into the atmosphere. The landfill was never properly closed.
After almost 20 years of investigation, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has set aside money for the project. It will take two years to complete.
The department will build a cut-off wall all around the landfill and cap it to keep rainwater out. It will pump 83,000 gallons of leachate out of the landfill every day and send it to appropriate treatment plants.
New Jersey has no grand plans for using the reclaimed land. It will plant wildflowers and other plants suitable for a wildlife habitat. The project is visible from freeways and commuter railroads. Thousands of people every day will be glad for the improved view.
Princeton, New Jersey
A closed landfill in Princeton, New Jersey hasn’t caused similarly dire environmental problems. In 2011 plans started on a landfill reclamation project to turn it into a solar farm.
The plan had to be put on hold because of the declining value of solar renewable energy credits.
They have recently increased enough to make the project economically viable, and construction has started.
When finished, the 8,000-panel array will provide about a quarter of the electricity needed to run a nearby wastewater treatment plant.
In the 1960s, cities located landfills in any convenient place that had no other obvious (commercial) value.
So Los Angeles filled in “useless canyons.” Miami chose a barrier island in Biscayne Bay called Virginia Key. It also sited its wastewater treatment plant there.
The Key wasn’t as useless as the Los Angeles canyons. In 1945, Miami built a colored-only beach park there, which has never ceased operation as a recreational area.
For 16 years, Miami used a lake in the center of the island as a dumping ground for garbage and sewage treatment sludge. Then the state ordered it closed. By that time, the top of the trash heap was 30 feet off the ground.
It sat for the next 40 years, simply covered with a layer of soil, surrounded by beaches and marine wildlife habitats. Contaminants continued to leach into the groundwater. Politicians of Miami and Dade County bickered about how to cap it properly and who would pay for it.
Now the county has agreed to foot the bill for a landfill reclamation project that will turn most of the entire island to park land. Contaminated groundwater will be pumped into a deep injection well being built at the wastewater treatment plant.
Construction of the PortMiami tunnel produced enough limestone to cover the top of the landfill with two feet of fill. Rigorous testing of the rock demonstrated it has no contaminants. The cap will be contoured so that water will not pool or sink into the buried waste. It will simply run off into clean water.
The old environmental menace will eventually become Miami’s largest park. Details will emerge only as reclamation work proceeds.
Everyone involved in planning and construction is determined to do it right. They want the historic beach park to become a crown jewel of Miami’s park system.
Garfield Heights, Ohio
What could possibly go wrong?
City View Center in the Cleveland suburb of Garfield Heights was intended to transform an old landfill into a retail mecca.
It would have provided the residential community nicknamed Garbage Heights with a commercial tax base. That is, if it had succeeded.
It opened in 2006, anchored by Walmart, Dicks Sporting Goods, and Giant Eagle. Smaller chains built there, too. It quickly became a fiasco. Environmental problems included finding such high levels of methane that if someone had tossed a lighted cigarette down a manhole, it would have exploded.
Walmart closed its store in 2008. Other large chains followed. Home Depot, among others, backed out of plans to build there. The developer eventually couldn’t pay the mortgage.
The city, county, developer, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency blame each other for the failure of the landfill reclamation project. It appears that it included all the appropriate environmental safeguards, but were designed and constructed badly, and regulations came piecemeal.
Steps to reduce methane leaks have largely succeeded. According to measurements by both the Ohio EPA and the Garfield Heights Fire Department, the area is safe. A home inspector with a methane detector frequently finds methane bubbling up from the ground, but the official tests indicate no public health or safety concerns.
Today, only one store, Giant Eagle, remains open. Other, successful, shopping areas have since opened within a few miles. That might be reason enough for City View to remain nearly a ghost town.
Fear provides another reason for stores not to locate there. People believe a private citizen with a methane detector more than they believe the professional assessments of the fire department and EPA.
The idea of building a shopping center on a landfill has worked successfully elsewhere. It just didn’t work in Garfield Heights.
City View shopping center in Garfield Heights goes from fairy-tale development to nightmare / Laura Johnston, Cleveland.com. Mach 15, 2009.
NJ launches largest landfill remediation project ever in Kearny / Jen Ursillo, New Jersey 101.5. June 18, 2017
Princeton’s landfill solar project underway after more delays / Olivia Rizzo, NJ.com. June 19, 2017
Say bye to Virginia Key’s toxic old landfill, and hi to Miami’s biggest park / Andres Viglucci. Miami Herald. June 15, 2017
Verify: It’s safe to shop at City View, landfill and all / Phil Trexler and Tom Meyer , WKYC. June 14, 2017
Hickory Ridge Landfill. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Solar farm. Public domain, US Air Force photo
Virginia Key Beach Park. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
City View Center. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons