LINDEN, NJ — The City Council is on the verge of approving a plan to use solar panels as a way to turn the “money pit” of a landfill on Lower Road into a cash-positive or -neutral venture.
A scheduled Aug. 20 vote by the council is set to approve a land lease for the property at 1543 Lower Road, turning approximately 55 acres near the Hawk Rise Sanctuary into a solar farm. The landfill stopped taking refuse in 2000 and officially closed in 2007; it comprises less than one-tenth of a square mile of which about 20 acres — less than half of the total property — facing south and southeast would be covered with solar panels.
“We have been looking to see how we can generate revenue into the city,” council President Michele Yamakaitis said in an Aug. 5 phone interview with LocalSource. “The landfill has been a money pit since its closure. We say it’s a living thing.
“We haven’t had any complaints from residents,” she added.
Maintaining the landfill has been a drain on Linden for years. The ground continues to settle, causing caving, including in the area designated for the solar panels, and this has impacted the storm water management system.
The city made “minor” repairs to the landfill in 2014, and spent $30,000 to hire a contractor to fix bigger problems.
City workers constructed berms for stormwater diversion downshutes to address some of the settling, but the contractor had to repair more severe damage to the downshutes and remove tall grass and sediment from the stormwater channels.
The proposal to lease the land will make the winning bidder responsible for maintaining the landfill cap, which forms a barrier between the trash contained in the landfill and surrounding ground, within the area of where the solar farm would be installed. However, “The successful bidder is not expected to perform the gas testing within the array area,” the resolution says.
Councilman John Francis Roman echoed Yamakaitis’ hope that the landfill proposal can become a significant revenue source, or at least mitigate the property’s maintenance costs.
“The landfill costs about $200,000 a year or more,” Roman said in a phone interview with LocalSource on Aug. 5. “We can build a solar field, which can cut down our maintenance costs. We’re leasing the land to a company that is going to maintain a solar field.”
Roman saw little downside to a solar farm, particularly regarding its location with the Rahway River to the south and a petroleum tank farm and Hawk Rise Sanctuary to the north.
“The landfill is at least a mile away from any house, so there was no pushback,” Roman said.
The idea of a solar farm isn’t new, he said, adding that he wanted a financially ambitious target.
“When we got our first proposal, we scrapped it. We have been working on this proposal for two years. It was for $120,000 a year. We felt that we could do better than that. We got six different proposals. The second proposal was going to bring us $7.5 million over 20 years. It was going to help curb costs.”