Minnesota's largest toxic landfill gets 2nd EPA extension

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted the State of Minnesota a second extension to negotiate an agreement to clean-up the Freeway Landfill, a federal Superfund site and Minnesota’s largest toxic landfill. The new deadline is October 30, 2015. 

For decades, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has been negotiating with the owner of the Freeway Landfill, Michael McGowan, the City of Burnsville, and Dakota County. Those negotiations began heating up again last year. 

Taxpayers could be on the hook to clean up the mess at a cost of $60 million and the owner of the landfill could also walk away with millions of development dollars.

Currently a grass prairie covers the 140 acre site in Burnsville located between the Minnesota River and 35W. The landfill was shut down in 1993 and the trash covered with coal ash. In the 1970's and 1980's, it was the final resting place for most of the Twin Cities’ trash.  Just about everything was buried there, about 5 million cubic yards of trash, enough to fill up seven IDS- buildings, from top to bottom.

"No matter what's in there we have to make sure we need to protect public health and environment. That's our duty and that's what we are looking at,” said Kirk Koudelka, an Assistant Commissioner for the MPCA.  During July and August a firm hired was testing ground water at the site.  The results of those tests have yet to be made public.

The Fox 9 Investigators reviewed 40 years of agency documents. They show the landfill took in 20 truckloads of battery casings, which the state allowed at the time and 448 tons of melted down toxic metals, called sweat furnace slag.  There is also a laundry list of cancer causing chemicals found in various quantities.

The undeveloped land is a gateway into the city of Burnsville. City leaders told Fox 9 protecting the environment is the number one priority when talking about any kind of future development.  But the city has entertained elaborate fantasies for the land for a long time. Planners once envisioned an outdoor amphitheater. Now they are dreaming of a golf course, corporate offices and maybe even homes.

"It would be a great place to have a wonderful gateway development, absolutely," said Burnsville City Manager Heather Johnston.

But to get the land, the city, state, and county must strike a deal with Michael McGowan, who declined to talk to us on camera.   His father started the landfill in 1969, and he now operates a waste transfer station next door. He also owns a nearby golf range. McGowan wants to maintain development rights to the land and claims the landfill is safe, as is.

Why not just keep the contaminated soil where it is? 

A quarry next to the landfill has been pumping water out of an aquifer, keeping the water table right below the contaminate soil. Trouble is, in 10 to 20 years they're going to shut down the quarry and the water table will rise to the level of the contaminated soil.