Landfill expansion request sent to state regulators

Friday, November 21, 2008
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Lewisburg resident Jane George, left, discusses landfill issues with Councilman Robin Minor, right, and Councilman Hershel Davis, center. In the background is Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr.

Do you think the Lewisburg City Council did the right thing by approving the expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill?


State officials may resume their consideration of Waste Management Inc.'s request for permission to expand trash burial at Cedar Ridge Landfill now that Lewisburg's City Council has decided that company plans meet certain standards.

"If the state approves the application, then the city would get free dumping," Waste Management Landfill Development Director Glen Youngblood said after the Council's Tuesday vote that followed questions from Councilwoman Quinn Brandon.

She'd advocated hard bargaining with Waste Management, knowing that Marshall County has received a host fee that subsidizes the county's solid waste department and pays for convenience center services where county residents take their trash.

The city's received nothing. It didn't have authority over expansion plans until last spring when it voted to adopt provisions of a state law.

Waste Management had offered free dumping if the city relinquished its authority under the law that led to a 4-1 vote Tuesday and a public hearing on Monday when area residents compared expansion plans to criteria on landfill odor, noise and impact on roads, land values and residents' health safety and welfare.

Had the Council relinquished its power, free dumping might have started months ago, City Manager Eddie Fuller said. Now, the city must wait for state approval.

Youngblood was reluctant to second-guess state officials, but after decades in the business, he estimated that approval might be about the time spring turns to summer. Several aspects of state regulatory action affect the timetable, he said.

Free dumping was seen as worth $130,000 annually since that's what was budgeted for so-called tipping fee payments at Cedar Ridge Landfill. Monthly city utility bills include $12.50 per household for garbage collection service.

While free dumping was not stated in the motion by Councilman Phil Sanders to let the company continue its quest for another state permit, it was more than just implied. It's a matter of record between the Council and Waste Management since it was again publicly discussed during a recorded meeting.

"We did not want to make that part of our motion to seem like we were selling ourselves," Mayor Bob Phillips explained after the meeting. "We didn't want to make it like we wouldn't pass this without that."

Youngblood confirmed the agreement is documented through the public record of meetings, if not included in the resolution adopted by the Council.

"We negotiated that with Bill and Eddie," Youngblood said of City Attorney Bill Haywood and Eddie Fuller, the city manager. While there's no contract signed between the city and the company, "It's part of the record" from public meetings, Youngblood said, emphasizing that it's a "given" part of the decision.

Wednesday morning, Haywood called the agreement "a good incentive" for the Council to pass the resolution. "But now we have to wait for state approval."

After the Council assigned Fuller and Haywood to negotiate with Waste Management officials, the city attorney explained, "We just sat down and decided what we wanted.

"It was almost like a joke -- free tipping, and recycling trash cans," he said of what was sought, apparently with little expectation.

Barrel-like carts with wheels and a handle have been bought for residents in the southwest part of the city where paper, plastic and recyclable metals are placed for city collection on Wednesdays. A city-formed committee of volunteers is working toward expanding that service to all parts of the city. More carts are to be purchased, but it appears state grants might cover the cost of all of them.

Several months ago, the Council rejected the idea of relinquishing its authority that stopped state examination of Waste Management's application for a state permit to expand use of property at the landfill. Nevertheless, the offer of free dumping continued, although the start date was adjusted.

During the special Council meeting called for the decision on the landfill company's request, Youngblood presented a digital slide show to explain why Waste Management's expansion plan conforms to eight state standards.

No new impact on property values is possible, he said. The landfill will always be there and since 1978 property values increased, according to figures he cited. There will be no change in what's accepted, or in the disposal method. The state's going to widen Mooresville Highway, he said, indicating the impact on roads may be less. The landfill employs 37 people of which 25 live in the county.

A sinkhole on the 11 acres will be plugged with different layers of rock and covered with liners.

"We are not going to put garbage in a sinkhole," Youngblood said.

The company always planned to use the land, but deferred this request for a permit to use that area, he said. "Now it's time to do this."

Brandon quizzed the landfill development director.

"How much does Waste Management stand to gain if you get this expansion?" the councilwoman asked. Youngblood replied he'd not calculated that.

"How much do you stand to lose?" she continued. Again, no calculation had been made, he replied.

"We certainly stand to make a return," Youngblood said. "We do make a profit."

The landfill had been receiving up to about 1,200 tons of solid waste daily, he said. Because the future is uncertain, it's been reduced to about 400 tons per day. Deliveries are now only from Lewisburg, Marshall and Bedford counties, and collections by Waste Management trucks at the company's customers.

Other aspects of landfilling were discussed, but much of it had been stated during previous meetings, but within 50 minutes, the mayor called for a motion to "allow Cedar Ridge Landfill to continue the process to petition the state to g for technical and environmental approval."

From a procedural perspective, "This does not mean we allow it" to expand, Phillips said.

The city's decision, however, did not stop the application. State consideration of the application did stop when the Council voted to acquire authority over the application. State review may now resume.

Recently-appointed Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. seconded Sanders' motion to let Waste Management's application be processed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Whitehead's decision to second the motion was significant because he succeeded Betsy Shelton, the second of two councilwomen who voted against relinquishing city authority over landfills.

Brandon cast the one vote against Sanders' motion Tuesday.

Voting with him and Whitehead were Councilmen Hershel Davis and Robin Minor.

Sanders, Davis and Minor have consistently voted on various questions in way that supported expansion of the landfill, and so the vote was seen as anticipated.

Regardless, it's attracted extensive attention, in part because so many other cities and counties have sent trash to the landfill just west of Lewisburg. Denial by Lewisburg would have led to closure of the landfill in about a year. If the state approves the permit request, the landfill could continue to operate seven to eight years, depending on the rate of deliveries.