Other people's trash is this town's treasure; A mountain of trash means cash for homeowners


TULLYTOWN, Pa. -- On the Delaware River a few miles south of Trenton, Martha Paden, 72, was sunbathing on the poop deck of the black and white houseboat she and her husband have lived on for 15 years.

Across the water and beyond some trees, a bald mountain challenged the sky. But even when the roar of giant trucks reached the boat, Paden was content.

For a decade, Paden, a retired roller-skating teacher, has seen the mountain slowly rise, built of countless truckloads of trash.

It is one of hundreds of modern, leak-proof private landfills that have opened around the country in recent years, replacing thousands of town dumps.

Tons of trash from New York businesses wind up here, and as the city closes down the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, some of the city's household trash is likely to end up here as well, according to Waste Management Inc., the company that runs the landfill.

And that is fine with many people here. Despite anti-garbage rhetoric from elected officials, dozens of places appear content with an influx of trash -- as long as it comes with a big infusion of cash.

In 1988, Tullytown, a small borough of Philadelphia commuters and blue-collar workers, was near bankruptcy, said Robert Shellenberger, a former mayor.

When Waste Management offered large payments for the right to build the dump, there was opposition, Shellenberger said. But the money overcame it.

Now the town, population 2,300, is flush with income from the dump -- fees last year totaled $2.3 million -- and the trappings are apparent.

A two-story atrium graces Tullytown's new $1.2 million Borough Hall. Four late-model patrol cars are nearby. Roads are freshly paved, and there is a new park.

But nothing is more remarkable than the $1,500 checks that the Borough Council sends each holiday season to each of the borough's 700 homeowners.

Town officials say that in a few years, the cash surplus generated by the garbage is likely to reach a figure at which the checks would be able to continue indefinitely, even after the dump closes in decade or so.

Lori Mailey said she still generally opposed the landfill, which loomed behind the backyard of the house she and her husband bought 15 years ago. But her antipathy for it fades a bit every December. "The check comes in handy at Christmas," she said.

As the financial benefits have accrued, complaints to Pennsylvania environmental officials about Tullytown's dump and another one a few miles away have dropped markedly, to two so far this year from 30 in 1997.

On her boat, Paden said she was not bothered by the mound in the background.

"My pretense of it is that it's my mountain," she said.

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