Long-range plan sought for trash

Friday, December 11, 2009

Several Marshall County commissioners have told the solid waste director to draft an announcement asking businesses to offer a long-term plan on what the county should do if and when Cedar Ridge Landfill must close.

"We are in a critical time," Commissioner Don Ledford, chairman of the Solid Waste Committee said Monday night about a pending decision from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation on whether the landfill may expand, or must close.

A decision has been anxiously anticipated for two months and recurring statements from TDEC make it appear that a decision could be announced any day now. The Solid Waste Committee has recessed one meeting twice in anticipation of a decision. When the group reconvenes, the chairman reminds commissioners that a short-term plan is being refined as it's vetted by County Attorney Ginger Shofner on how an annual $160 fee will be billed to county residents not served by a municipal arrangement for trash service.

Waste Management Inc. must give a 90-day notice to the county before aspects of its contract with the county will expire if it must close the landfill. While it's generally assumed by local officials that TDEC will be sued by the landfill company or environmentalists regardless of which decision is announced, it's unclear whether the landfill would be able to continue to receive deliveries as long as the appeals process might last.

And so, a long-term plan must be developed. Recurring discussion indicates it could be to haul garbage to another county's transfer station so it can be shipped to another landfill, or perhaps a transfer station would be built in Marshall County. That was part of the recurring discussion Monday night when the Solid Waste Committee reached a consensus on some practical and political realities.

"We talked about RFPs (Request For Proposals, an alternative to the bidding process to get suggested solutions from various businesses in a county contract) and the various options," Ledford said Wednesday. "We will meet Jan. 4 to discuss it again."

Solid Waste Director Morgan Thomas "will have wording for us at that time," Ledford said.

That practical step is coupled with a political aspect of the situation. State law requires the county to have a disposal plan, but it has no control over the municipalities. Lewisburg's Public Works Department serves its 11,000 residents. Chapel Hill and Cornersville have contracts with Waste Management Inc., owner of the landfill.

Lingering opposition to an abandoned proposal for a landfill at Cornersville includes opposition to expansion of Cedar Ridge, while closing the landfill is seen by others as an economic catastrophe.

Coordinating readiness is the Solid Waste Committee with members like Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the county Budget Committee, who "would love to see what it will cost us" to establish county-managed services with cooperation from municipalities.

However, Thomas points out that businessmen in trash hauling and related services "won't put out figures without a start date" for whatever contract the county might write.

Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel agreed, and during Monday's committee meeting he suggested the county proceed without municipalities that don't want to participate since "they've set in the back and twiddled their thumbs."

Cornersville Mayor Amos Davis has been at the two most recent committee meetings and has participated by providing what information he has about his town's needs and services.

Reflecting on the consensus that directed the county solid waste director to assemble an RFP announcement, King said once that's written, then the committee can "tweek it and have it ready to go if we do get the 90-day notice from Waste Management" if TDEC decides against issuing an expansion permit to the landfill company.

"We don't know what they're going to do," King said. "It's all speculation.

"My guessing is they're going to deny it," he said, quickly adding that "We don't have any kind of information.

"The only reason I'm speculating like that is because it has taken so long to get a decision," King said.

The department has known for three years this day would come when a decision would have to be made.

"I don't have a clue," Ledford said when asked what he thought TDEC's decision would be. "It's still a mystery to me how the first cell ever got permitted."

The landfill is divided into "cells" which are areas for burying trash.

Told of King's guess, Wentzel agreed, "I wish they would (disallow expansion) but my wishful thinking doesn't go very far.

"We're in a totally different world when dealing with waste now. It's like I told a commissioner in Maury County - we face the same problem.

"'If you'd partner with us we could do something,'" Wentzel said he told Judy Vick of the Maury County Commission.

Maury and Marshall counties are members of a state-mandated regional solid waste authority that sanctions trash disposal plans for residents. The current plan is to rely on Cedar Ridge Landfill, a facility that once received shipments from several other counties, including Davidson and the City of Franklin. Shipments were reduced as space for burial of trash has been used - the very reason Waste Management wants a permit to expand.