MAX Environmental, the hazardous waste landfill overlooking Yukon PA, wants to get bigger. Residents of the town want the opposite. When the company applied for expansion permits along Sewickley Creek, they faced stiff opposition. More than eighty people from Yukon came to a DEP public hearing, filling seats to show the state spokespeople that they wouldn’t accept hazardous waste near their homes.
Shortly after, MWA shared a petition asking the DEP to hold a second public hearing, recognizing that a single in-person hearing for an expansion of this magnitude was insufficient. For the only RCRA Class-C Hazardous Waste Landfill in the state, the maximum level of public engagement was necessary, not the bare minimum. Even with two-hundred signatures, the DEP declined to host a second hearing.
Despite that lapse, there were multiple issues with MAX’s application pointed out by residents and identified by DEP. These included: mine voids beneath the proposed site, flood hazard areas over the landfill, and oil and gas leases beneath the area. Though DEP chose to hear only one hearing’s worth of community concerns, they did issue three deficiency letters to the facility citing problems that would need to be addressed if MAX wanted to proceed.
Public pressure didn’t falter either. Dozens of “No MAX Expansion” signs were pounded into front yards and tacked up on storefronts. More are being printed now per request. When Mountain Watershed held a community meeting to talk about advocacy strategies, Yukon showed up in force. Op-eds popped up in regional papers. Reporters visited the town. Impacts felt by nearby residents and the issue of the proposed expansion were shared on news segments.
Those efforts have paid off. On Friday, February 17, Mountain Watershed Association received an update from the DEP. Sharon Svitek, Program Manager, Bureau of Waste Management stated that MAX is withdrawing their application for Phase I Landfill No. 7. A formal letter to all individuals who provided comments on this phase is forthcoming from the DEP. This strong result demonstrates the power of public pressure and community organizing. MAX claimed in their withdrawal letter that though they believe they submitted a “sound” application they “understand that there are other issues of concern to PA DEP that will need more time to be more thoroughly addressed.”
“Hearing that MAX was withdrawing their application was awesome,” said William Krance, a longtime resident of Yukon. “They should have done that years ago with their other permits too.”
All this being said, the issue is not finished. At this time, beyond their short letter, we don’t have much information on why MAX Environmental withdrew their application. A medley of factors, including application inadequacies and community pressure, likely contributed. We know MAX intends to resubmit at a later date. In the past, they have circumvented regulations by having the 100-year floodplain re-designated to skirt the edges of the permit boundary. It’s possible they need time to find similar approaches for satisfying the outstanding deficiencies.
“Everyone’s efforts have been extremely important,” said Seth Lovato, a landlord in Yukon. “Keeping the conversations going and the fire stoked for the next battle, should it arise, is necessary. On behalf of my family, my renters, and myself, thank you for leading us in this fight for Yukon, neighboring communities, and for the health of all.”
We must carry this unified momentum forward to address ongoing issues and concerns, to prevent any future expansion, and to ensure accountability with all operations at the facility. To these ends, MWA will continue hosting meetings monthly in Yukon to share updates. If you have any questions, please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more!