Nixing landfill expansion counters rules' oversight

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

An attorney for the Tri-County Environmental Association - a group that fought landfill plans at Cornersville and continues to oppose Cedar Ridge Landfill expansion - was surprised by the state's move against expansion.

Environmental regulations require monitoring wells for landfills on landfill property, but the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has allowed Waste Management Inc. to monitor Cedar Ridge Landfill from an easement on private property that's not part of the landfill, the lawyer said in a one-hour interview.

Predictably, Elizabeth Murphy, the Nashville-based attorney for the environmental association here, supports TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke's decision against issuing a draft permit for additional landfilling at Cedar Ridge.

Fyke expressed concerns that if tons of garbage were buried over a sinkhole, the weight might make the sinkhole collapse, regardless of plans to fill the voids with concrete.

However, Murphy said, "I'm surprised that the state admitted that they (Waste Management Inc. officials) don't comply with the law because they (the state) have not enforced this" current permit.

"The site has been out of compliance for a really long time because the permit they have does not allow discharge off-site," she said.

The "discharge" is leachate, an industry term for liquids in garbage that are squeezed from buried trash. It's collected through a system of basins, pumps, pipes and a settling pond. But, she says, the pond has overflowed during heavy rain.

That's a surface water issue addressed by stormwater management regulations administered by TDEC's division over clean water.

The division over solid waste administers regulations over monitoring landfills' effect on water underground and conflict arises in that area because of the geology of the site, Murphy said.

"I've probably read over 2,000 pages" of the file at TDEC headquarters in Nashville where she concluded, "What they are monitoring there is after leachate has gone to the creek."

Pollution last summer of Vickery Branch fed, in part, by Vickery Spring is an example. Leachate leaked from a pipe, seeped into the source of the spring and emerged in the branch of Globe Creek.

Another example is liquid flowing into a sinkhole where the landfill would be expanded. Water flows below the sinkhole. While leachate might be affecting that water, Murphy concludes the erosion from flowing water is another reason Fyke should finalize his tentative decision to deny Waste Management plans to cap the sinkhole and bury tons of garbage on top.

"If they put trash in Cell 7," she says of the area of Cedar Ridge that's not yet permitted, "they have to make sure that they fill the hole and that it's water tight."

That has been done at other sinkholes with a special kind of concrete. It was done in Knoxville, she said, when a sinkhole was filled to build Neyland Stadium for the University of Tennessee.

"All that's on it now is men playing football," Murphy said. "It's a different story if you build a six story building."

Compare that to the weight of thousands of tons of garbage, she said. "That's why the geologists said this probably won't work; that this will fail."

Murphy points to a fact sheet that says the commissioner has made a tentative decision that Waste Management "failed to demonstrate" that, relative to the proposed expansion area:

* There is no significant potential for surface collapse;

* The ground water flow system is not a conduit flow which would contribute significant potential for surface collapse or which would cause significant degradation to the ground water; and,

* Location in the Karst terrain (an area with caves) will not cause any significant degradation to the local ground water resources.

Murphy spoke of the state decision against issuing a "draft permit" for landfill expansion. Kathy Fox, president of the Tri-County Environmental Association, was asked on Dec. 16 for a reaction to the TDEC commissioner's decision. Fox referred questions to Murphy, who was reached at home last weekend.

Waste Management was given 45 days to respond and say why Fyke's decision shouldn't be made final. If the commissioner denies the permit, Waste Management can ask the state Solid Waste Control Board to overrule him.