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Residents critical of 'PR stunt' amid anger over Modern Landfill contaminants

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

In announcing its community forum on the future of the Modern Landfill, Republic Services announced that it would "answer residents' questions" amid increasing scrutiny over water contamination at the site.

Instead, residents who attended the Monday night forum left angry over a setup that involved literature-dispensing booths rather than an open question-and-answer session.

"We were not expecting this kind of PR stunt," said Bruce Kelly, one several dozen Lower Windsor Township residents who turned out for the event at the municipal building. "They're not letting it be a community forum. Therefore, not all citizens are being informed at once."

Republic Services says it has almost finished work on a nearly $23 million project to address wastewater treatment at the landfill, with construction expected to be completed later this year.

Those upgrades were part of an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection, which cited the landfill after discovering that wastewater discharged into Kreutz Creek exceeded limits for boron and other contaminants.

Some nearby residents, who undertook their own testing, discovered so-called PFAS forever chemicals in drinking water near the landfill.

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Tim O'Donnell, the landfill's general manager, delivered opening remarks from a podium in the center of the municipal gymnasium Monday night. He then encouraged attendees to visit information booths scattered around the room for more details.

A number of the attendees didn't bother picking up literature or visiting the tables. They milled about the gym, talking amongst themselves.

Republic Services Community Meeting

"The goal of the meeting is to allow residents to have a meaningful dialogue with experts and have their questions answered," O'Donnell said prior to the event.

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State Rep. Wendy Fink, R-Windsor Township, attended the event. She has also met with representatives from the landfill and attended meetings of the Lower Windsor Township Board of Supervisors on the issue.

"I think residents are just upset because they've put their time in," Fink said of the response to the forum. "They feel like the trash that's coming in is not local trash. ... That's what they're upset about."

Republican nominee for State Representative for the 94th District Wendy Fink speaks during the York County Republicans watch party at Wisehaven Event Center in Windsor Township, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

However, Fink said she also understands the larger predicament.

"No one wants to live next to a landfill," she said, "but the other side is the trash has to go somewhere. So there has to be some type of compromise."

Resident concerns date back to the 1980s, although the water treatment upgrades stemmed from a consent decree that emerged from a 2017 regulatory action by the DEP.

The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeepers sampled the Kreutz Creek almost every month in 2022 and reportedly found elevated levels of PFAS — chemicals found in firefighting foam and cookware, among other household goods — that far exceeded the health advisory limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Researchers have linked the chemicals to cancer and other health ailments.

Tim O'Donnell, P.E. General Manager of Republic Services, before a tou of the Modern Landfill in York county on August 17, 2022.

As part of the $23 million wastewater treatment facility upgrades, O'Donnell said, a reverse osmosis filter is being installed.

"We're excited about this," he said Monday. "It’s exciting not only for its ability to treat boron and osmotic pressure, but also for its ability to treat for contaminants that are not even regulated yet, like PFAS."

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Despite O'Donnell's assurances that the upgrades will address contamination concerns, many residents were unimpressed with the information shared Monday.

"It’s a PR kind of thing they've always done," said John Bowser. "They are not going to answer the tough questions half the time."

Lower Windsor Township residents speak with Republic Services employees and representatives about Modern Landfill.

When asked for comment on residents' dissatisfaction, O'Donnell said the event gave meeting attendees the opportunity to ask all their questions.

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"The format allows for deeper conversation," he said, "versus getting in only one question at best. It also allowed people who may not want to ask questions in front of a large group the chance to speak one-on-one with professionals."

He noted that, beyond the community meeting, residents can contact the landfill at any time: "We are always open to answering their questions.”

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.