Environment

As tests continue to show diminishing environmental risks at the former Lees Lane Landfill in Southwest Louisville, city and state officials are beginning to discuss redevelopment of the former Superfund site. One possibility is a solar energy field.

For 35 years, the landfill took in everything from household trash to toxic chemicals. It was closed in 1975, and in 1983, it was added to the National Priority List of federal Superfund sites. Lees Lane was remediated and removed from the list in 1996, but since then, monitoring has continued. There are still toxic gases venting from the landfill, and nearby residents have had concerns about health and safety.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department for Environmental Protection will continue to monitor the site. But after the most recent round of tests didn’t show that landfill gases are infiltrating nearby homes, EPA project manager Donna Seadler said the site could be ready for redevelopment in the near future.

The most recent round of testing of indoor air quality was in response to previous tests that showed seven homes near the landfill had potentially dangerous levels of toxic gases in crawlspaces. But the gases found—like 1,3 butadiene—could have come from the landfill, or a number of other sources like cigarette smoking or vehicle exhaust.

Seadler said the EPA tested indoor air quality at eight of the homes closest to the landfill, as well as testing the soil gas outdoors. She said if the gases inside the home were migrating from the landfill, they would be in a higher concentration in the soils than in the indoor air.

“At the Lee’s Lane area, that was just not the case,” Seadler said. “So we were able to determine whatever concentrations we were getting in the homes were not due to landfill exposures.”

Now, Seadler said there’s a minimal amount of sampling that still needs to be done, but the 112-acre site could soon be suitable for certain types of development. State and Metro Government officials have been meeting to discuss the subject, and in a statement, Develop Louisville spokeswoman Jessica Wethington said one possibility that’s being considered is solar energy.

“Louisville Metro Government representatives recently attended a meeting convened by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to discuss the potential to redevelop the Lees Lane Landfill for solar energy generation or other uses. The idea is in the very early stage, and it is still not clear that the site can be developed for solar energy generation or other issues. However, we are optimistic about this concept and will continue to participate with the Cabinet and other stakeholders in exploring its potential.”

From Seadler’s perspective, she said the EPA would like to see some sort of development at Lees Lane, as long as it didn’t damage the clay cap that covers part of the site. Right now, there are numerous trespassers who enter the former landfill, and ATV riders often damage the cap.

“It does look like it could be acceptable for industrial or recreational use at the site,” Seadler said. “But it does need to be reused in some sort of way because it’s so difficult to maintain, and it would be less attractive to ATV riders if it had some other use.”

Seadler said even replanting the Lees Lane Landfill as a pollinator haven—similar to what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing at the McAlpine Locks and Dam—would serve a purpose and save lots of money in mowing costs.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.