WILKES-BARRE — What began as a state-of-the-art fairy tale has now become a state-of-uncertainty potential nightmare.
I’m talking about the West Side Landfill — really the former landfill that has been closed for years and now sits in neglected splendor between Keating Street in Larksville and my old neighborhood in Plymouth.
Back in the mid-1980s, I visited my old neighborhood on Reynolds Street just to see what was going on there. I parked my car and walked up Reynolds Street and I ran into Mr. Miklosi, who was famous back in the 1960s because he was the first person in our neighborhood to buy a color TV — a Zenith, if memory serves me — and he invited a few of us to watch “Bonanza” one Saturday night.
As I was talking to Mr. Miklosi, I noticed a bulldozer atop a high hill that was never there when I was growing up. Mr. Miklosi told me the bulldozer was pushing garbage in the West Side Landfill.
Upon further review, I learned the landfill had moved to this 220-plus-acre site and had a wonderful plan to bring the latest technology to garbage disposal — a baler would compact the garbage into tidy squares that would be placed in neat piles. This process would extend the life of the landfill for decades and life would be grand with people dancing in the streets.
That never happened. What did happen was a 24-hour-a-day parade of tractor-trailers filled with who knows what from who knows where. Residents were beyond upset — they were scared. And to make matters worse, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (the predecessor to DEP) issued only one permit for a small section of the site. Because the landfill authority could not get any other part of the site permitted, the garbage was piled splendiferously into what became known as Mount Trashmore.
The mountain is still there, covered now with grass, weeds and trees. Some areas, I’m told, are exposed. I’m not sure if anybody really knows what is percolating in Mount Trashmore.
In the 1980s, the landfill really stunk. There was a leachate (garbage soup) pond that was a color I have never seen before — not even in the extra big box of Crayola crayons. There was concern back then the leachate may have seeped into the ground water. I’m not aware of any evidence of that, but perhaps we won’t know until the neighborhood dogs get a lot meaner or somebody grows tomatoes the size of watermelons.
The question today is should we be concerned about the landfill and its future?
Colleen Connolly, spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the landfill has been capped, even though she said there are “some areas of concern” where garbage has been exposed.
That said, Connolly said the soil has not been tested recently, therefore there are no significant findings. Huh?
DEP is also concerned about the security of the site. Fencing has been compromised, allowing access for ATVs, as well as joggers and walkers.
Connolly said DEP is still working with the 12 municipalities that make up the landfill authority to continue to maintain the site.
One of those member municipalities is Kingston and its administrator, Paul Keating, said this:
“Our municipal solicitor has advised me that the West Side Landfill Authority no longer exists as an authority pursuant to the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Act. Therefore, on the advice of my solicitor, I do not believe that we are any longer recognized as an authority in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Keating added that the authority board has not met in a few years due to the legal nature of the status. He said there was a meeting with DEP concerning the defunct status of the authority and ongoing maintenance responsibilities. Keating said the understanding was that each community was going to discuss with their officials the possibility of re-establishing the authority.
“Presently, I am not aware of any community taking any formal action whatsoever to re-establish the authority,” Keating said.
He noted the authority does not have adequate financial resources to test soil, secure the property, or engage professional services because there is less than $5,000 in the treasury.
So there is concern, yet nobody is stepping to the plate to address those concerns.
And so we just wait for those mean dogs and giant vegetables to appear.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.