Landfill expansion requested forwarded to state regulators

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

11-30-2007 - The regional panel supervising a state-required plan for disposal of garage and other solid waste has forwarded a request for expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill to sate environmental regulators.

"This body needs to send it on to Nashville and TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) to go through the technical review," Marshall County Commissioner Joe B. Brandon said shorty after the vote on his motion.

Waste Management Inc., owners and operators of Cedar Ridge Landfill just west of Lewisburg, sought approval last summer to use 11 acres at the landfill where trash hasn't been deposited. Permission was simultaneously sought from TDEC and the Marshall-Maury Regional Solid Waste Board. The board must act before TDEC can formally proceed.

"They have the technical expertise," Brandon said of TDEC's review process.

Cedar Ridge spokeswoman Terri Douglas reacted to the board's decision saying, "We're very pleased with the outcome of the vote during the meting and with the support for our expansion project."

She is, however, well-aware that Cedar Ridge Landfill has attracted considerable local attention in recent years. Metal shavings from one of Waste Management's industrial customers smoldered over the 2006 Easter holiday, filling nearby valleys with smoke, according to Bob Hopkins, the county's emergency management director. Years earlier, previous owners of the landfill weren't required to line the dumping grounds with plastic and/or clay, so there are widespread concerns that liquids seeping from the area polluted nearby waters. Waste Management has taken steps to address such issues, but residents' reactions have prompted action by their elected leaders and some of that was evident Tuesday night in Columbia during the regional solid waste board meeting.

Commissioners Larry McKnight and Don Ledford abstained from voting on Waste Management's request. Weeks before the meeting, McKnight was getting advise from County Attorney Lee Bowles about whether he could vote against the request. He and other Marshall commissioners could not.

"I had no choice," Ledford said when asked about his abstention.

It was "probably" because of the contract the county has with Waste Management, Ledford said, declining to elaborate. "I can't speak to that because I've been instructed not to."

Eleven other board members voted yes.

Ledford's concern is related to litigation brought by Bowles for the county against Waste Management before the county commission was asked to vote on the landfill expansion request. Bowles argued the contract was contrary to state law that has local leaders compare landfill operations to a set of criteria. The contract has Waste Management operate convenience centers where residents take household trash, and Waste Management pays the county for the authority to operate a landfill in the county. The contract also prevents the county from opposing expansion plans.

"The county will not take any action inconsistent with any Cedar Ridge application to the State of Tennessee or other efforts to add additional Class 1 [household garbage] that is consistent with this addendum...," according to the relevant portion of the contract as read by Douglas on Wednesday.

Asked if that prevents Marshall County commissioners on the regional panel from voting against the expansion, Douglas replied, "They have a responsibility to vote in a manner that represents all of Marshall County."

The contract also says, "In the event the county takes any action inconsistent with the terms of this section, then Cedar Ridge shall have the right to declare any or all of this agreement with the county to be null and void, or may take such other action as allowed by law."

Meanwhile, the requested expansion on the 11 acres of Cell No. 8 could extend the lifetime of the landfill by 5-7 years from now, depending on the frequency and size of deposits, according to Morgan Thomas, Marshall County's solid waste director.

Next to Cell No. 8 is Cell No. 7, a 6.5-acre portion of the landfill.

"They're fixin' to start dumping garage in seven," Thomas said.

Douglas said Cell No. 7 is "under construction" and should be operational early next year.

Without Cell No. 8, the landfill might be full in a couple of years, depending on the rate of deliveries. That's according to officials in local, federal and corporate offices.

Thomas and Mike Sweeney, chairman of the regional solid waste board and director of Maury County's Solid Waste Department, agree that Waste Management has the resources and expertise to operate landfills better than most counties.

Thomas and Sweeney said so after discussing their belief that TDEC's decision could be made within a year, but it's unclear whether it will be approval of the expansion.

"It's not guaranteed," Sweeney said. "TDEC is not a rubber stamp. If it does not meet their requirements, they don't allow it."

Thomas agreed: "Everything I've heard, since the problems with the Dickson County Landfill, and ground water pollution -- things have been more closely examined."

In many respects, Tuesday night's vote was procedural and predictable.

"We could have talked about it all night long," Brandon said. "Without a vote, nobody knows how they feel."

Sweeney and Thomas explained that the two-county panel exists to oversee a plan it developed for disposal of solid waste.

"We have no policing powers," Sweeney said. "The only thing this board does is create and oversee a solid waste plan... The only question tonight is; Does the request fit the plan? The plan has Cedar Ridge as the disposal point for Marshall and Maury counties' solid wast. Therefore the request fits the plan.

"Examination of the technical aspects of the landfill's operation will be by TDEC," he said.

TDEC has issued a public notice asking area residents if they have comments about the proposed expansion. Department officials have said that if there are enough responses, then a public meeting will be scheduled. The Marshall County Tribune has not received a response to its recent request to TDEC on whether a public meeting has been scheduled. Thomas and Sweeney said they have not been advised on whether a hearing has been scheduled and they conclude that no meeting has been set. Thomas, however, anticipates a meeting, saying there's "always" a meeting.

Remaks from TDEC spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese on Wednesday tend to support Thomas' view. She anticipates continued response to TDEC's public notice and therefore will continue "to err on the side of holding a hearing when one is requested by the community," Calabrese said.