Landfill decision near, but that won't end debate

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Marshall County's long wait for an answer about whether the state will permit expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill only seems to be coming to an end.

Believe it or not, local leaders have been waiting for a tentative decision. The state will be issuing or denying a draft permit. After that, there's another 45-day public comment period. A public hearing might be requested, conducted and then a final decision would be issued with a permit after state officials consider public comments.

That's the process as explained by Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

"They need to go ahead and make the decision," State Rep. Eddie Bass, who represents Marshall County in the Tennessee House of Representatives, said Monday night. "I can't say what the decision should be. I can say that most of he people who contacted me are against it," he said, referring to expansion opponents.

And so, regardless of whatever decision is made by the state on a permit request to expand Cedar Ridge Landfill, there are still several hurdles to clear before a permit is issued.

"A tentative decision to issue or deny the expansion permit application must be made," according to Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for TDEC.

That tentative decision must be stated in a public notice, a legal advertisement about TDEC's "preparation of a draft permit or a notice of intent to deny," Lockhart said.

"Public notice of the preparation of a draft permit or a notice of intent to deny must be given," the TDEC spokeswoman said. "There will be a public comment period open for at least 45 days, regardless if the permit is granted or denied.

"During this comment period any interested person, including the applicant and third parties (meaning interest groups and individuals) can submit comments ... [and] request a public hearing."

Faced with a similar set of circumstances on another landfill issue, Marshall County Solid Waste Director Morgan Thomas said, "There's always a public hearing" because of a request during the public comment period.

Lockhart continued about people who would tell the state they want a hearing to continue advocating their position: "Such a request must be in writing and must state the nature of the issues proposed to be raised in the hearing."

After the 45-day period, she continued, "Following the close of the comment period -- and after the public hearing if there is one -- the department responds to the comments and issues a final decision."

If the state's final decision is against issuing a permit to expand the landfill, Waste Management "can appeal a denial to the [state solid waste] board, but there is no administrative appeal available to third parties," Lockhart said, citing Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA 68-211-113 (d).

It says, "Notwithstanding any law to the contrary except chapter 213 of this title, the approval of the commissioner of a solid waste processing facility or disposal facility or site shall be final and not subject to review by any administrative board, commission or other administrative officer or body."

As for the draft permit phase of the process, Lockhart said "If the decision is to grant the permit, it does not become effective until the day that tentative decision on the permit is finalized.

"However, the applicant must construct the landfill to the engineering design approved in the permit," she said. "The department must give a final approval of the construction before the solid waste can be disposed in the newly constructed area."

Meanwhile, there have been several estimates on how long the landfill can operate without an expansion permit. The latest is 18 months.

"A permit such as this is based on air space, not time," Lockhart said. "However, an estimation of Cedar Ridge Landfill's 'remaining life' is approximately one year and six months, give or take. This is based upon the most recent report provided by Waste Management... from April 2009 and on the landfill's average of 724 tons of waste per day."