Reaction to the state's step toward preventing expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill was muted by the fact that it's not final, even though denial of a "draft permit" might appear to be a tipping point against expansion.
Local officials participating in the on-going saga recognize problems are on the horizon if the landfill must close, but others point to short-term plans that have been laid and steps that are being taken on what to do thereafter.
Little was said about the prospect of a $160 per year solid waste fee for county residents not served by municipal trash collection. That fee is part of a resolution that's been recommended to the Marshall County Commission, but returned to the Solid Waste Committee for more work.
Knowing Waste Management can continue its efforts to expand, Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said, "In the meantime as a county we'll have to make decisions" on what to do with trash if and when it can't go to Cedar Ridge anymore.
"Of course that's what the Solid Waste Committee has been working on and the County Commission will have to make a decision on which direction we will have to go when handling the solid waste in the county," Liggett said.
The leader of the Tri-County Environmental Association - formed in response to Waste Management's plan to build a new landfill at Cornersville - deferred to the group's Nashville-based lawyer Elizabeth Murphy
"We have not seen the tentative decision and would like to see the basis for that," Murphy said. "We've asked for it from TDEC."
Waste Management spokeswoman Terri Douglas said the company "is disappointed with TDEC's notice of 'intent to deny' an expansion application for the company's Cedar Ridge Landfill.
"The company disagrees with TDEC's decision," Douglas said. "It continues to believe the Cedar Ridge application is technically sound and contains the necessary components and engineering standards to be protective of the environment at the landfill.
"After receiving 43 pages of documents containing the decision late Wednesday, Waste Management intends to carefully and thoroughly analyze TDEC's basis for its intent to deny, which the company believes is not justified," Douglas said. "Cedar Ridge Landfill will continue to seek the expansion based on the positive merits of its application. The company will provide technical proof needed that the expansion plan adequately addresses state and local requirements. "
County Commissioner Don Ledford, chairman of the Solid Waste Committee, said, "Well great. It's good news that they've turned it down ... By their own admission this site is not suited for a landfill," Ledford said. "How could you approve a site that's not? Having said that, past history had dictated that a site didn't matter."
The Solid Waste Committee meets at 6 p.m. Jan. 4 in the County Courthouse Annex on Lewisburg's public square.
As for the short-term plan, Ledford said, "We've been ready."
Liggett noted, "This decision has been in the hands of the state for something like two years." The county and a regional panel had to deal with the company's application for an expansion permit before that. "I don't know that I'm surprised (by the decision) because of the circumstances," Liggett said. "In 1999 when they were granted expansion ... the 11 acres were left out."
Waste Management purchased Sanifill, the company with the landfill in the 1990s. Later, Waste Management "sought an expansion and then it went to the size that they have now," Liggett said.
County Commission Chairman Billy Spivey noted TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke's decision was only "an intent" to deny a draft permit.
"Sounds to me like there's quite a bit more process," Spivey said of the comment period. "Then after they file a decision, then there's an appeal process.
"It doesn't sound like it's a call for any action," the chairman said when asked if the $160 solid waste fee resolution should go to a vote by the commission.
Spivey was "not surprised at all" by the tentative decision, he said. "It went on for so long that there had to be some information that they were struggling with."
Chapel Hill and Cornersville have trash collection contracts with Waste Management.
"A decision was long overdue," Cornersville administrator Taylor Brandon said.
"We're going to be getting notice from Waste Management" about the contract, "and then put our backup plan into place." That plan is to issue requests for proposals for solid waste services.
Brandon doubts the landfill will be open for 18 months if the final decision is against expansion.
"I don't think that's the time frame," he said. "They're going to start putting less and less waste into the landfill. I wouldn't be surprised if the landfill was closed sooner than that."
Lewisburg City Manager Eddie Fuller said the city spends about $10,000 a month to dump trash at Cedar Ridge.
Fuller expects Waste Management to appeal the tentative decision. Others expect the conflict to end up in court. "If there's an appeals route," Fuller said, "somebody will take it."
Tri-County Environmental Association is seen as the plaintiff if the decision swings toward Waste Management.
Mayor Barbara Woods said "I feel like we have lots of problems because we have to find something to do now with all our waste. Lewisburg's garbage was going there and we'll have to find another place. That raises more concerns because everything is further away and so it will cost more.
Chapel Hill Town Administrator Mike Hatten said the announcement "answers some things, but also gives us a direction to go... We will be working closely with the other cities ... to figure out what will be in the best interest of Chapel Hill and the county.
"Nobody wanted to make drastic decisions until there was a decision" by the state, he said. "Now we can get together and decide what we can do."
As for the tentative decision, Chapel Hill Mayor Carl Cooper said, "I hope it's the right one over time."
Now that there's a direction indicated, Cooper said, "We have no alternative but to look for alternate suppliers, and we're willing to do that. The people who opposed it, if they can live with it over time, that's fine."
Lewisburg's industrial developer, Terry Wallace, predecessor of the current county mayor, said Waste Management still has 45 days to respond.
"You just have to wait on the landfill's response," Wallace said. It's "still on hold."