Freeway Sanitary Landfill

The Freeway Landfill in Burnsville, Minn., accepted waste from 1969 to 1990. Older landfills such as this one had few design and operational standards when initially built and used. Now, there are a number environmental concerns associated with the landfill that need to be addressed.

The Freeway Landfill was qualified to enter into the state’s Closed Landfill Program. The MPCA has been negotiating with the landfill’s owner to enter into this program for nearly two decades. The most recent round of negotiations broke down in the summer of 2016.

The MPCA is currently seeking to gain access to the site to conduct additional testing.

Map showing location of Freeway Sanitary Landfill

Freeway-landfill-timelineThe McGowan family purchased the property that what would become the Freeway Landfill in the 1960s. The 150-acre parcel is bounded on the north by the Minnesota River. The eastern boundary of the site is Highway 35W. On the southern edge is the Kraemer Quarry, which is still in use, and on the west is another quarry that was once operated by the McGowan family, but is no longer in operation.

When the landfill began operating, this area was a wetland. While a landfill would never be sited in that type of area today, it was considered an appropriate land use then.

The Freeway Landfill began accepting waste from the Twin Cities area in 1969, under a permit issued by the city of Burnsville. The MPCA issued the landfill a permit in 1971.

There were few landfill regulations at this time. Permits usually covered some very basic requirements such as hours of operation, control of blowing trash, pest control, and restrictions on a few types of garbage that could not be disposed of.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, landfill regulations changed dramatically. Landfills were required to be properly lined and operated to prevent water and air pollution. Landfill operators were given two years to make upgrades to their facilities, or to stop accepting garbage. The Freeway Landfill stopped accepting waste in 1990.

At the end of its operational lifetime, about 5 million cubic yards of trash had been disposed of at Freeway Landfill. The waste disposal area — about 132 acres — was covered with soil.

At present, a waste transfer station operates on a 12-acre piece of the site.

When the Freeway Landfill began operating in 1969, there were few restrictions on what types of waste could be disposed of. A variety of chemicals and substances were legally dumped in the landfill — things that would not be allowed under current regulations.

Because this parcel of land was originally a wetland, it was generally recognized that at some point there would be issues with the level of groundwater reaching the lower levels of the landfill, saturating the garbage there. This issue was addressed — at least in the short term — when the Kraemer Quarry began pumping water out of their quarry in the 1970s. This kept groundwater levels underneath the landfill artificially low.

Geology beneath Freeway Landfill

Geology beneath Freeway Landfill

When the quarry stops operating and this pumping ends, groundwater levels will rise and that groundwater will become contaminated with chemicals and other substances from the landfill. At some point, that groundwater will eventually begin flowing toward and into the Minnesota River. Some of it will also flow toward the Kraemer Quarry, and into the lake that will form when the quarry fills with water.

When garbage decomposes, it can create several types of air pollutants. Of most concern is the generation of methane, which can be explosive if concentrations reach high levels. This gas can migrate through waste in the landfill and the soil that caps and surrounds it, and cause possible public safety hazards.

When evaluating possible solutions to problems associated with any landfill or contaminated site, the MPCA looks at a number of factors, the most important of which include:

  • Protection of human health and the environment;
  • Compliance with applicable requirements;
  • Effectiveness and how long the remedy will last; and,
  • Cost.

At the Freeway Landfill, MPCA staff looked at five possible solutions, outlined below.

Freeway-landfill-options 

Option 1 — Take no action

The MPCA must always evaluate the option of taking no action at a contaminated site. Taking no action would still require ongoing monitoring of the site.

  • Will this option protect groundwater = NO
  • Will this option protect surface water = NO
  • Will this option address methane gas issues = NO
  • Estimated cost = $300K per year for ongoing monitoring

Option 2 — Replace the cover on the landfill

This option would replace the existing cover on the landfill so that it meets current standards, and install a system to recover gases generated by decomposing garbage.

  • Will this option protect groundwater = provides some protection
  • Will this option protect surface water = provides some protection
  • Will this option address methane gas issues = YES
  • Estimated cost = $29M

Option 3 — Dig up garbage and line existing landfill (preferred option)

This option would dig up and consolidate garbage on the existing site. That garbage would be placed in a newly lined portion of the site that includes a system to collect gases generated in the landfill.

  • Will this option protect groundwater = YES
  • Will this option protect surface water = YES
  • Will this option address methane gas issues = YES
  • Estimated cost = $64.4M

When the Kraemer Quarry stops operating and they no longer pump water out, groundwater below the landfill will slowly rise. This contaminated water — which will not meet water quality standards — will eventually flow toward and into the Minnesota River and the lake formed as the Kraemer Quarry fills.

To prevent this, the MPCA has determined the best option is to excavate the 5 million cubic yards of waste and consolidate it in a lined portion of the old landfill. The lined area will have a footprint of about 60 acres. It will be surrounded by a 200 foot buffer that will require about 32 acres of the site.

The current upper elevation of the Freeway Landfill is about 750 feet above sea level. When the waste has been consolidated and capped, the waste will have a peak elevation of about 850 feet above sea level.

Option 4 — Dig up garbage and line existing landfill and part of closed quarry

This is similar to the previous option, but would line a portion of the quarry to the west of the landfill as a part of the closed landfill.

  • Will this option protect groundwater = YES
  • Will this option protect surface water = YES
  • Will this option address methane gas issues = YES
  • Estimated cost = $71M

Option 5 — Move waste to the Burnsville Landfill

This would involve moving waste from the old Freeway Landfill to the operating Burnsville Landfill.

  • Will this option protect groundwater = YES
  • Will this option protect surface water = YES
  • Will this option address methane gas issues = YES
  • Estimated cost = $135.5M

Contacts for more information

History of the Freeway Landfill site, potential solutions:

Groundwater issues at the site: