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As a resident of Lower Saucon Township, I can’t remember a time in the township’s history when it was more important for the residents to head the polls and to ensure the future direction of our community.
Furthermore, there has never been a time in Lower Saucon that a foreign corporation has dumped almost $100,000 dollars into the election process for its own business interest. Our township residents are being exposed to a major loophole in state and federal campaign financing law that permits a corporation to make an “independent expenditure” and could influence the outcome of an election. As long as the corporation does not have any direct contact with the candidates they are either supporting or opposing they can spend as much money as they want–there are no limits.
The company taking advantage of this loophole is none other than IESI PA Bethlehem Landfill Corporation, owned by the Canadian-based Progressive Waste Solutions Corporation with the help of their Philadelphia-based attorneys. They are supporting Tom Maxfield and Sandra Yerger.
IESI’s mailers and calls fail to explain why they want these candidates elected and use scare tactics to sway voters. What they don’t tell you is that every year an average 375,000 tons of garbage is hauled into the township by nearly 40,000 trucks, most of which are from out-of-state. The waste from out-of-state is approximately 70 percent of the total hauled into the township daily. In addition, IESI does not want you to know that the proposed 2016 township budget has no tax increases, no cuts to spending and IESI’s total contribution to revenue is only 10 percent.
What IESI wants from these candidates is not an expansion approval, but a zoning change. What is zoning? A simple explanation of zoning is lines on our township map that tell a property owner what they can and cannot build on their property. For instance, many of us in this township live within a Residential or Rural Agricultural district, which allow for one house on a specific number of acres along with other uses that will protect environmentally sensitive land. Another example is the Light Industrial district, which allows for manufacturing, warehousing and even landfills.
Since 2005, IESI has been acquiring the Rural Agricultural land adjacent to their land to the tune of 83 acres. IESI wants the Lower Saucon Township Council to change their land that is zoned Rural Agricultural to Light Industrial. IESI has selected the candidates who will permit this change based on their previous support of IESI.
So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that the current zoning is designed to protect quality of life for all the residents of the township, not just a select few. Zoning establishes the boundaries that separate the many different types of residences, business and all uses throughout the township. It protects all the interests of the residents who live and/or work as one with little conflict. An overwhelming majority of residents around the current IESI PA Bethlehem Landfill do not want these boundaries to be changed. It will impact their quality of life and they feel it will set a very negative precedent in this township; for the right amount of money, a corporation or developer can change the character of a community, and the quality of life for the residents doesn’t matter. Furthermore, what they want to do is considered spot zoning and that is illegal. So, they are using a legal loophole in the campaign laws to get an illegal change in our zoning code.
I encourage all residents to attend council meetings and become engaged in our local government. I have been attending council meetings, planning meetings and public hearings for three years. I have met many great people from all walks of life. It is ironic, that the only time I see new faces at these meetings is when they feel their quality of life and homes are threatened by outsiders attempting to change our zoning codes to their benefits.
We are a community that contributes .25 percent of our earned income tax to protect the environment and hold off development. Many of our current council members first walked through the council room doors to object to various projects that were going to impact their quality of life. For Maxfield it was a cell tower; deLeon it was a quarry; and Willard it was the Phoebe retirement community. For the most part, these council members have continued to maintain the quality of life by enforcing the current zoning codes. That was until the proposed rezoning the Applebutter Road area. We watched one of our council members flip-flop on the issues because it would be financially beneficial to the township.
If it wasn’t for the people living around the landfill, IESI’s dream of a western expansion would now have been realized. The residents are not objecting to IESI expanding within their existing footprint into the southeastern area by placing new trash on top of old trash, which would extend the life of the landfill 6-7 years.
Through our fight to save not only our community, environment and quality of life, but all residents, we have forced IESI to revise their dream for the landfill expansion. If the new eastern expansion is approved, it will generate an additional $6,000,000 in revenue to the township while not using any new land. This revenue would never have been a reality if it wasn’t for the people opposed to the zoning change.
I am not anti-business, in fact many of my neighbors own small businesses that employ 10 times the amount IESI employs; somewhere between 8-12 people. I have never had a bad word to say about my neighbors that operate businesses. In fact I’m friends with many of them. Our community will be here long after the landfill has closed and departed. I know who I am voting for on Election Day. It will not be for any candidates that benefited from a corporation or developer that can spend an unlimited amount of money to change the very thing that protects all residents quality of life–zoning.
This is not Washington. Special interests cannot be allowed to win elections when informed residents vote.
Lower Saucon Township