Landfill company slams TDEC

Friday, February 12, 2010
Waste Management says capping this sinkhole will prevent stormwater from flowing across three hills and into ground water. Filling the large swale at Cedar Ridge will also stabilize the surrounding hills and extend the life of the landfill. A state decision on expansion is anticipated within a month.

Waste Management has responded to the state's intention to deny expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill saying an inspector is biased, county water tests show he's wrong, expansion will stabilize the landfill, and capping a sinkhole will reduce pollution.

The company's 62-page response was filed with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation shortly before its Monday deadline for comments on TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke's tentative decision to deny expansion. There's no deadline on when Fyke must issue a final decision, but his spokeswoman says it's probably coming in 30 days.

"Statements in the Notice of Intent to Deny clearly demonstrate a bias on the part of the local geologist," who works at TDEC's Columbia office, Waste Management says in a summary of technical papers under a cover letter from Timothy M. Wells, the company's area vice president, and Jessica Preston, Cedar Ridge's environmental protection manager.

No violations were found in 104 of 115 monthly inspections by the state and six of the 11 violations "were authored by the local geologist who only inspected the site 32 times (and) more than half of the noted violations were issued as a result of those inspections," according to the company's statement.

Some of the violations were after heavy rains even though state policy says inspection times "should consider wet season and time for vegetation" grown to restrict the effects of stormwater runoff, according to the document reviewed Wednesday with Robert Cheney, area business development director for the company.

TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart was asked about the allegation of bias and conflicting information about well water testing.

"We have reviewed these comments and will certainly consider them in our final decision," Lockhart said. "A response to comments will be included in the final decision."

If TDEC's commissioner denies the expansion permit, then Waste Management can appeal to the state's Solid Waste Disposal Control Board within 60 days.

As for Waste Management's contention that water testing started by Marshall County shows the state is wrong about the prospect that expansion will harm well-water quality, the company quotes minutes of a county Solid Waste Committee meeting.

The minutes are used to counter a Dec. 10, 2009, hydrologic review that says, "Groundwater conditions offsite at elevations where residential wells are placed may already be impaired and the addition of this expansion may make matters worse."

"This statement is false and is not supported by any documentation," the company says, and Cheney pointed to minutes of an April 9, 2007, committee meeting when water test results were discussed.

Asked about the time lag between April 2007 and December 2009, Cheney said, "There has been no change in any of the results." The company's business developer also asks why the state would include a statement that water "may already be impaired and the addition of this expansion may make matters worse" when there's a history of no change in test results.

The April 2007 minutes say, "James Clark, a geologist with TDEC reviewed them (county water tests) and found no health risks from chemical contamination."

Bacteria and microorganisms commonly found in water wells and springs were revealed by tests funded by the county, according to the minutes that also document Darlene Hill's concern over chloride found in a water seep on her land. Chloride might indicate the presence of leachate, soiled water squeezed from landfills.

Clark told Hill that Waste Management "tested the site and would work with TDEC to make corrective action," the minutes state.

Waste Management says it has met or exceeded standards set for landfill operations.

As for Hill's concern, Cheney said, "Upon investigation of the seep, and in cooperation with TDEC, Cedar Ridge launched an in-depth investigation into the source, and determined that it was coming from the old, pre-subtitle D portion of the landfill."

Waste Management purchased another landfill company and obtained Cedar Ridge in that deal.

"Based upon these findings (about the pollutants at Hill's seep), Cedar Ridge invested more than $1 million in replacement of the old leachate collection system to increase the efficiency of collection."

Returning to the expansion issue, Cheney said the company "cited two specific examples in our rebuttal that show an inconsistency in interpretations" of circumstances.

East Fork Globe Creek is deemed by the state as having water quality that does not support normal activities for a waterway. Those would include fishing and ecosystems required to support fishing. The so-called impairment is a description of pollution.

"But the government document lists landfill and pasture grazing as the source," Cheney said. "It does not list Cedar Ridge Landfill...

"The old city landfill borders East Fork Globe Creek," he continued, "About five years ago, we had to change (water) monitoring points because we were picking up VOCs (volatile organic compounds that are components of pollution) that were upstream from the (company's) landfill, but downstream from the old city landfill... an unlined facility... closed before that requirement...

"So, for this (state) geologist to point out that Cedar Ridge Landfill as being the source of contamination is irresponsible and inaccurate."

Furthermore, Cheney explains that the state should let the company expand the landfill because "Tying it all together makes sense."

Waste Management consulted with Dr. William B. White, describing him as a "nationally-recognized karst researcher and professor with 40 years of experience in geologic settings similar to that of Cedar Ridge Landfill."

TDEC has recognized White as an authority and relied on him when developing state groundwater monitoring guidance for permitting landfills in karst terrains, the company said. Waste Management included White's evaluation in its response to Fyke, saying is supports the company's contention that the expansion area is stable and can be monitored.

That area has a sinkhole and Waste Management's executive summary of technical papers says there is "no potential for surface collapse that could adversely impact" the proposed expansion area, and its development wouldn't adversely affect the other parts of the landfill.

In fact, the company says, expansion and its design would increase stability of the landfill and divert water from a course that's been of concern - water flowing down the sinkhole and into underground streams.

Capping the sinkhole with layers of more clay and 60 mil polyethylene barriers would reduce water getting to the underground stream, the company said. That would reduce soil saturation, a cause of instability, thereby increasing instead of decreasing internal stability of a landfill.

At the surface, Cheney says, the expansion would divert stormwater drainage.

He explains that filling in the valley with the sinkhole would eventually be like an umbrella where the open sinkhole is like a funnel, channeling stormwater and thereby increasing its velocity and ability to erode dirt and affect underground streams.

Another point made in Waste Management's response to TDEC's plan to prevent expansion is that this case is being treated differently from other similar situations.

"Inspection reports for the Bi-County Landfill in Montgomery County had 32 violations noted over the same 36-month period" that Cedar Ridge was inspected, and "Bi-County was granted an expansion request by (Tennessee) in 2007," the company said in its report dated Feb. 8.

Elizabeth Murphy, attorney for the Tri-County Environmental Association that was created as Waste Management sought to develop a landfill at Cornersville, was asked to comment on the company's statement.

"Waste Management has been working on this proposed expansion and submitting information to TDEC for a very long time," Murphy said. "I would be surprised if there is anything new to be submitted that had escaped their attention over the last year.

"The burden is on Waste Management to prove there is geologic stability and the waters will not be polluted," she said. "If they have not been able to make the point by now, I don't think it is coming.

"I did however enjoy their recent episode of "Undercover Boss" after the Super Bowl," the Nashville-based attorney said of a CBS reality show that premiered with Waste Management's CEO taking jobs at several of his company's facilities, including one where he was fired the first day.

The "boss," Lawrence O'Donnell III, has presented the company as environmentally friendly. The program focused on employees' work collecting, hauling and disposing of trash and waste.

The company's comments to TDEC's Solid Waste Division director, Mike Apple, is among nearly a dozen statements. The majority opposes expansion.