Papenfuse apologizes, seeks compromise on compost plan

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Mayor of Harrisburg was humble before residents of neighboring Susquehanna Township on Thursday evening.

Eric Papenfuse led a public comment session, looking to clear the air about an unpopular plan for a Harrisburg composting facility to be built outside of the city limits.

“I am very sorry for how this issue has been communicated up to this point. It was not handled well,” Papenfuse told a crowd of several dozen seated inside the Susquehanna Township Emergency Services building. “We want your input.”

Papenfuse tried his best to offer solutions to a list of concerns expressed by Township residents since word of the plan circulated earlier this summer. The city plans to build an approximately 5-acre compost facility on a vacant 42-acre lot owned by the Harrisburg School District. The ground located at 1850 Stanley Road in Susquehanna Township was formerly home to a middle school. A DEP permit application would allow for the facility to accept natural material including yard waste, leaves and trees, as well as food scraps.

Residents living in the nearby Edgemont neighborhood have expressed concerns that rotting food would cause odor issues and attract unwanted wildlife, insects and pests. On that point, Papenfuse offered immediate compromise.

“Regarding food, what I’m saying is we can alter our application to remove food,” the Mayor said. “We do not have to have food of any sort at this composting site.”

Papenfuse explained that the City wished to be a good neighbor, and invited “open-minded” Township residents to join him in forming an advisory committee to seek solutions for making the compost project beneficial to both communities.

Other suggestions immediately offered by the Mayor included allowing Susquehanna Township residents to deposit yard waste at the facility, limit hours of operation and noise coming from trucks and grinding equipment, prohibit delivery trucks from entering the surrounding residential neighborhoods, installing security cameras to discourage illegal dumping, and inviting Susquehanna Township School District to use the facility for environmental education opportunities already planned for the Harrisburg School District.

“I’ve heard your responses to some of our concerns, and I’m still opposed to the facility,” said Wilhelmina Murry, a Susquehanna Township resident.

Among a handful of speakers opposed to the compost plan was State Representative Sue Helm (R-104), also a resident of the Township.

“I hope you’ll find somewhere else to do this,” offered Helm. “In the City of Harrisburg, you’ve got to have five acres somewhere.”

Papenfuse countered, saying the City would prefer to have the compost facility within Harrisburg boundaries, but was unable to find adequate space that also met Department of Environmental Protection requirements. The Mayor said, for instance, composting around the city on scattered vacant lots would not be acceptable.

As other residents expressed fears that a relatively small compost facility could someday become larger, changing the complexion of their neighborhood and replacing precious remaining green space. Papenfuse said he would pledge to keep the facility the same size, and offered to sign a separate agreement with Susquehanna Township to further ensure residents the footprint of the compost piles wouldn’t increase under his administration, or one in the future.

As the Mayor concluded, he told residents the City would use their input to revise their DEP application, and come up with an environmentally and community friendly project all parties could be proud of.

“We’re doing it because we believe it is the right thing to do, and we have a mandate from the DEP to establish such a facility,” said the Mayor. “We can pledge to you tonight that we will come back to you with the revised application before we submit it to the DEP.”

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