Landfill reopening anticipated

Friday, June 17, 2011

An agreement has been reached between the state and Cedar Ridge Landfill that could result in permission for expansion of the landfill west of Lewisburg. Environmental protections for ground water include more monitoring wells and maybe a barrier of two liners instead of one to prevent seepage of liquids from the landfill to groundwater.

It could mean that the landfill might reopen for trash disposal about one year from now. The landfill was closed several months ago because it was almost full. Had it remained open and was filled, then it would have been required to implement a permanent closure plan, thereby nullifying all the attempts in recent years to expand the facility. If the landfill closed, county commissioners would have to decide whether to impose a trash disposal fee on all households without municipal service, or find another way to deal with the county's responsibility for disposal.

Robert Cheney, development director for Waste Management Inc., and Meg Lockhart, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, this week explained the nature of a Memorandum of Understanding between the state and the business as both work toward an agreement that could be presented in August to the state Solid Waste Disposal Control Board. It has been scheduled to hear the company's appeal to a decision by Jim Fyke, now former commissioner of TDEC, who denied expansion.

Expansion does not mean more acreage for the landfill. Approximately 10 acres at Cedar Ridge have never been a place to bury garbage. A sinkhole there is to be capped for use of what's called Cell 7 - so that area could be a dumping ground without fear of pollutants seeping into the sinkhole.

"In April 2010, TDEC denied Waste Management's proposed Cedar Ridge Landfill expansion (Cell 7)," Lockhart said, explaining that was "based on the applicant's failure to demonstrate that the geologic formation of the proposed expansion area and the design of the facility are capable of containing the disposed wastes and the failure to demonstrate that the expansion could be effectively monitored for leaks that could impact groundwater."

Ultimately, the issue has always been whether landfill operators can contain leachate, the technical term for liquids in garbage. Typically, leachate is unused beverages and similar liquids that leach out of an uncontrolled landfill. As liquids are squeezed out, they collect and carry other pollutants.

So now, the state says, in its June 8 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), landfill managers are "to demonstrate that the geologic formation of the proposed expansion area is ... capable of containing the deposited wastes, and that the groundwater will be protected."

Referring to the MOU, Cheney explains, "This is a process document. We were tasked with doing some things and, based upon the outcome, we do something else. The first thing we do is locate monitoring wells. If we can't, then we're obligated to double lining the cell."

Landfill cell liners are thick, man-made materials. They might be compared to an impervious blanket laid across the area where alternating layers of dirt and garbage are deposited.

Cedar Ridge leaders, as they work toward preparing the land for trash deposits, "also have the ability to continue to look for monitoring wells all the way up to the construction of the site," Cheney said.

So, the requirement from and desire of the state, as well as Cedar Ridge leaders, "are additional monitoring wells," Cheney said, "which is OK" with the company. "We already have some."

A fact of life for well drillers is that they may not find water, and that's also the case when engineers try to locate a monitoring well. As a result, land at Cedar Ridge will be probed until additional suitable monitoring wells are established. The monitoring wells are to be an alert system to indicate when there's a leak and where remedial steps must be taken.

The MOU "is a road map," Cheney said. "Completion of the map, once the items are completed to the satisfaction of the two, both (the state and landfill leaders) will go to the (state Solid Waste Disposal Control) Board in August with an agreed order, requesting the board to issue a permit" for expansion of the landfill at Cell 7.

"The board will make the decision, not an administrative law judge," Cheney said.

Assuming a permit is granted, expansion work would continue. Alternatives could be litigation by private environmentalists and closure of the landfill.

Cheney was asked for a time-line on expansion.

"Mother Nature will dictate when it opens," he said. "We need dry weather for construction."

Constructing a landfill is different from building a house.

"You can't start unless you plan to finish," Cheney explained. "You must start and work to the finish."

There's no opportunity to "dry-in" the construction project and proceed inside, or delay work outside because of bad weather.

A "worst case scenario" for completion of the expansion, if permitted, would result in a "mid 2012" opportunity to start receiving trash deliveries again, Cheney said. Under good conditions, completion might be in May 2012.

Lockhart's explanation of the June 8 Memorandum of Understanding provides insight on the department's expectations of Cedar Ridge Landfill leaders. Waste Management Inc. is the parent company.

"The MOU allows Cedar Ridge to present additional data about the geologic structure beneath the proposed Cell 7 at the landfill - additional data addressing the geologic stability of the site and approves a dye trace study to determine the flow of groundwater below the site," the department spokeswoman said. "The MOU also allows Cedar Ridge the opportunity to demonstrate the viability of release detection for Cell 7 by one of two methods."

They are as follows:

* Cedar Ridge will first attempt the construction, development and operation of two new groundwater monitoring wells at locations specified by TDEC geologists to effectively monitor groundwater; and,

* If the monitoring wells are not successful, Cedar Ridge will redesign and construct Cell 7 with two synthetic liners so that the space between the two liners can be monitored monthly for any releases from the top liner. This secondary containment system must follow the design criteria for hazardous waste landfills.

"The MOU is intended to ensure that Cell 7, if constructed, will meet the regulatory requirements for Class I Municipal Landfills and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Subtitle D standards. Once all of the terms and conditions of the MOU have been completed, TDEC and Cedar Ridge have agreed to make a good faith attempt to develop an Agreed Order to be presented to the Solid Waste Disposal Control Board. If approved by the Board, Cedar Ridge's permit will be granted on the terms and conditions specified in the Agreed Order."