Now, officials with Waste Management Inc. face what they've described as a yearlong process of having to prove to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation that they should be permitted to use more land at Cedar Ridge.
Managers over the landfill here are experienced at that. They did so when they ran Middle Point Landfill east of Murfreesboro in the 1990s. But now, they will have to overcome information in TDEC files displayed by Commissioner Larry McKnight in his attempt to persuade his fellow commissioners to vote against expansion.
"I know we've got to consider the economic impact," McKnight said. "But we've got to consider the environmental impact."
McKnight reviewed a number of allegations of pollution last month as documented by the state. He said he got the documentation from the state.
"Are we liable if we allow this," he asked.
Furthermore, Marshall County has caves, McKnight said. The area is not stable, he alleged. It's not suitable for a landfill.
"Doesn't that [cave system] cause some alarm?"
McKnight's Power Point presentation had state photos he described as showing pollution seeping from the landfill. Waste Management Vice President Glenn Youngblood said the green slime shown in the photos is algae.
Asked later if algae grew because of nutrients in leachate, water that's seeped through garbage, Youngblood replied, "It could be produced by nutrients from fertilizer used by farmers. That is not a result of the landfill leaking. Our position is that the landfill is not leaking. All of our monitoring tells us we are not polluting."
Among those voting to allow the expansion was Commissioner Jimmy Stitt who said he planned to vote against expansion until he walked around the property. He found problems at two parts of the landfill, but concluded they're from previous operators. It's better to have landfill managers who are dealing with it. Furthermore, landfills are needed, he said.
Youngblood said landfills now must have plastic liners to collect rainwater that's seeping through the garbage. Previously, they were required to have clay liners. Before that, when the first two parts of the landfill were opened, no liner was required.
Nearly 100 people attended the Marshall County commissioners' meeting, many of them wearing bright, light green T-shirts advocating denial of the expansion.
"We would be remiss if we didn't look at the financial impact" of not having a landfill, Commissioner Joe B. Brandon said.
Landfill operators pay a per ton host fee to the county. Half the money funds the county's solid waste department. The county's contract on the landfill has Waste Management operate household trash convenience centers. Brandon said hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake every year.
"They sold us out," Old Columbia Road resident Richard Holt said after the vote "Tell them I've got some landfill-view property for sale."
Roger Scruggs said, "The land adjoining the landfill isn't worth 50 cents an acre."
Waste Management has bought nearby land for $12,000 an acre and that increased nearby property values and taxes, Scruggs said. "It's a numbers game."
Mary Williams used to live on Crestview Drive and still opposed the expansion.
"I am very distressed at the lack of responsible judgment with all the facts that were well documented," Williams said. "These officials were elected ... to represent and protect the citizens' best interests."
"It stinks," said Shelly Wright, a mother of two who was holding her 3-month-old child in the second floor lobby after the vote. "We can't go out at night because it smells so bad. I'm worried about my children's future."
During discussion before the vote, Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel clarified the nature of the commission's decision.
"We are not voting to close the landfill," Wentzel said. "The vote would be to limit the landfill."
The planned expansion adds enough room for about eight years of trash deliveries, instead of about 2-1/2 years, Waste Management Business Development Manager Robert Cheney said.
"We're obviously pleased with the decision and the confidence that the county has in us," Cheney said. "We want to continue the partnership" with the county.
Another aspect of the controversial vote is a deferral of Waste Management's consideration of a possible reopening of the shuttered Quail Hollow Landfill in Bedford County. It has a state permit and could be reopened if market conditions were right, Cheney said last week.