UPDATE: Landfill identified as Vickery Spring pollution source

Friday, June 26, 2009
Robert Garza points with his cane to Vickery Spring and nearby stream water that's discolored on the surface and where the streambed is also discolored. It appears white at one place near Vickery Spring and further down stream the streambed is an unnatural greenish blue color.

Cedar Ridge Landfill has been identified as the source of contamination of an un-named creek's water downstream from Vickery Spring near the landfill's driveway.

"From a water quality standpoint, this is a serious and ongoing issue," Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said Thursday afternoon.

Several residents near the spring had suspected as much, although some withheld judgment until test results were available. Members of six households commented recently, asking what would be done about the odor and discoloration on the water and the streambed.

"It is now a matter for our Division of Solid Waste Management to ensure that the issue is corrected and any enforcement also would be handled by this division," Lockhart said.

Test papers stamped "priority" were released by the state Thursday. They indicated tests for metals from aluminum to zinc. Samples for the tests were collected on the morning of June 16 by Ryan Owens of TDEC's office in Columbia.

Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett issued warnings last week telling residents to stay out of the stream and East Fork Globe Creek.

Told of the unusual color of he streambed and the sheen on the surface of the water, Liggett commented on June 19, "I've seen that color in a creek before. it was in East Fork Globe Creek seven to 10 years ago."

Lockhart substantiated the mayor's recollection.

"From past experiences it has been shown that releases from this particular landfill have typically shown high levels of chlorides and ammonia," the state official said. "In addition, past studies have shown Vickrey Spring is hydrologically connected to Cedar Ridge Landfill, which is why it is one of their sampling points."

Waste Management has maintained sampling posts to stay abreast of the water condition on properties around the landfill.

TDEC's Solid Waste Management Division has "been communicating with Cedar Ridge, along with community leaders," Lockhart said. "Based the lab results we have received, the Division believes that the problem in Vickery Spring is being caused by leachate from the landfill."

Leachate is dirty water that's seeped through a landfill. Much of it is liquids that emerge from garbage buried daily at landfills. The liquids frequently carry elements of wastes deposited in a landfill.

Officials in TDEC's Solid Waste Management Division have "asked Cedar Ridge to investigate to determine if [the conclusion that the pollution is from leachate] is correct," Lockhart said.

TDEC's Solid Waste Division "is in the process of assessing its next steps to not only expedite a resolution to this issue but to ensure compliance" with applicable state and federal regulation, TDEC's spokeswoman said.

Furthermore, the department's Division of Water Pollution Control "is continuing to monitor the situation within the stream and will continue to provide assistance and technical expertise," the spokeswoman said as she released a technical report.

Among the several residents interviewed near the stream is Rick Skillington whose home faces the entrance of the landfill. Last week he said he'd notified livestock owners downstream from Vickery Spring about the state investigation that included examination of East Fork Globe Creek that generally parallels Mooresville Pike.

Lockhart said, "Based on feedback from the Water Pollution Control Division, the impact to the East Fork Globe Creek could be seen as far down as Interstate 65."

"At that time, the department instructed Cedar Ridge Landfill to identify the actual source of the contamination," Lockhart said. "In addition, we continue to monitor the issue."

As reported Wednesday, state and local tests found levels of E.coli bacteria that were similar up and downstream from the spring.

That "most likely rules out a septic or sewer issue as a source of contamination," the TDEC spokeswoman said.

The department also administered tests to determine the conductivity of the water. Clear water free of additional elements conducts electricity less than water with additional elements.

"Conductivity levels at the area were extremely elevated from the point of impact and downstream. At that time, the department instructed Cedar Ridge Landfill to identify the actual source of the contamination," Lockhart said Thursday.

On Wednesday Jeff Carls of Poteet Road said he just wants results.

"I'd just like to have it [the stream] back to what it was so my grandchildren can play in it," said Carls who emphasized that he's not assigning blame for the stream's condition. However, "The animals have a right to drink clear water."

Ten-year-old Caitlyn Roberts, granddaughter of Robert and Chelle Garza, the couple with a backyard deck and swimming pool across Mooresville Pike from the landfill's driveway, wiggled her nose when talking about the stream.

"I went to the creek and it smelled real bad," Caitlyn Roberts said and her grandfather asked, "What are they going to do about it?"

Meanwhile, Waste Management Inc. has an application for a permit to expand use of land at Cedar Ridge so it may continue to bury rubbish at the landfill.

The landfill would be able to continue operations for several years, depending on the rate of deliveries, if it receives the new permit. If not, it could be closed this year.

Wednesday, Waste Management spokeswoman Terri Douglas said Waste Management had not received a notice "from TDEC on the expansion permit or an idea on a time frame" for when it might be issued or denied.

Early this month, Lockhart said TDEC was sending Waste Management "a letter ... highlighting some concerns we have about the hydrology of the site. It's my understanding that this is primarily a karst terrain, which will require additional measures of protection."

Karst topography includes caves, and Larry Elder, 56, of Mooresville Pike reports a sinkhole - one that was near where the landfill's drive is now - was filled in.

He also recalls a time when an artesian well west of his home "would shoot water straight up" into the air.

"They capped it off and my father-in-law, Roy Meek, used to get water there," Elder said.

"There are caverns around here," Elder said. "Some run all the way to Giles County."

Waste Management has received the letter mentioned by Lockhart, and Douglas reports, "We're going to give them what we know. They're asking questions."

She anticipates a meeting between the company and TDEC to answer questions and clarify concerns on both sides.

And on Wednesday, neighbors around Poteet Road may have seen a flatbed truck delivering large and long rolls of black sheets of thick plastic.

"They're putting down new rain flaps," Douglas explained.

Parts of the landfill where trash is dumped are covered with the broad black sheets to prevent soil erosion so stormwater won't expose buried trash.

Seated on their deck, the Garzas and their granddaughter enjoy the above-ground swimming pool. He discounts the idea that backwashed sand from the pool's filtration system caused the smell and discoloration of the stream water west of Vickery Spring.

Robert Garza and his neighbor, Ed Brown, also say they don't think their septic tanks or field lines have affected he stream. Brown's field lines are upstream from the spring. Garza's is downstream from the spring.

Chelle Garza says local officials put a red dye in their toilet and that her husband flushed it several times.

Next door, Brown was spray painting a hay baler red and said the officials who came by his property last week indicated the stream had been affected by something and that state officials had dug a hole at the spring.

He's also concerned about water that flows through a drain tile under Mooresville Road from up the hill between the landfill driveway and Elder's house.

Brown had rocks and broken pieces of concrete placed at the stream bank to serve as rip-rap to restrain the flow of stormwater that flows across the west side of his lawn and the east side of the Garza's lawn.

The rip-rap was put in about two months ago, he said.

As for what should be done with regard to Waste Management's request to use more land and continue to bury trash, Elder says, "I think the damage has been done. I think they ought to get it full and go."

He also concedes that there must be a place for the disposal of trash, but he's dismayed that this landfill is "so close to civilization." He also knows it's not the first one with such a location.