The Tennessee Department of Environment has a proposal for the expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill, which, if approved by the state Solid Waste Disposal Control Board, could lead to a permit to let Waste Management Inc. bury trash over a sinkhole to be capped on eight unused acres of Cedar Ridge Landfill.
"It's been expected by us because we've been in a legal action through the federal courts for the release of information," Elizabeth Murphy, an attorney for plaintiffs alleging Waste Management has violated environmental law as it operated the landfill west of Lewisburg. "It remains a mystery to us as to why they (TDEC leaders) no longer have a problem" with expansion of the landfill.
Former TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke denied the expansion permit. Waste Management appealed Fyke's decision to the Solid Waste Disposal Control Board. Subsequently, TDEC negotiated an agreement with Waste Management that could lead toward expansion and resumption of trash deliveries. A TDEC spokeswoman says negotiations started before Gov. Bill Haslam succeeded Phil Bredesen.
In compliance with a June 8 Memorandum of Understanding with TDEC, Waste Management took steps to provide information supporting the company's claim that bedrock at Cedar Ridge is stable and will support tons of trash covered daily with dirt, according to Robert Cheney, business development director for Waste Management in Tennessee and two more states.
TDEC announced Wednesday that it's accepting public comment and that the information will be considered when the Solid Waste Disposal Control Board meets on the 17th Floor of the L&C Tower in Nashville on Aug. 29.
Cedar Ridge Landfill has not accepted trash since last year because the currently permitted area is approaching a capacity that, if reached, would require use of a closure plan filed when the first permit was issued for Waste Management's Cedar Ridge.
Under an agreement with Marshall County, Waste Management paid a host fee for each ton of garbage buried at the landfill. The money goes into a county fund that supports Solid Waste Department operations. Since deliveries stopped, host fees haven't been paid. The Solid Waste Department is spending from reserves and money from the sale of recyclable materials: paper, plastic and metal.
Marshall County Solid Waste Director Morgan Thomas does not plan to attend the state meeting on Aug. 29: "Not unless somebody tells me to." He and other local officials have seen the controversy as between the state, the landfill and area residents who have participated in activities of the Tri-County Environmental Association and/or the civil litigation in U.S. District Court, Nashville.
The Tri-County Environmental Association was created in response to Waste Management's attempt to find a place for a new landfill. The location was at Cornersville. Kathy Fox, a Cornersville community resident, has been active in opposition to the then-proposed site and expansion of Cedar Ridge. Wednesday, she was offered an opportunity to comment on the latest developments as published in a notice here on Wednesday. She declined, explaining that she'd not read the TDEC notice.
She referred questions to Murphy, the Nashville lawyer who filed the environmental complaint in federal court against Waste Management. Murphy spoke that day after having spent hours in depositions on the case.
She had "looked for new information on the geology and there was nothing we could find," Murphy said.
"There's no reason that we've seen for why the state changed its mind" with regard to denial of an expansion permit, she said.
Ultimately, TDEC's goal is to protect the environment. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) sets forth steps Waste Management must take to do so, and to show that buried garbage won't pollute.
Criticizing the MOU, Murphy said, "the document makes it evident - on its face - that the work was done before the results of the proposed work was complete.
"The MOU speaks of doing things before the permit is issued and the state (has), essentially, agreed to issue the permit before the work was done," the attorney said.
One of the key requirements of the MOU is establishment of new monitoring wells so water can be tested on a regular basis so landfill operators will know if there's something askew.
Waste Management's business development director was asked about Murphy's contention that there's no new information about the landfill, sinkhole, related features and other aspects at Cedar Ridge.
"There's a tremendous amount of new information," Cheney said. "There are two new monitoring wells."
Asked if there are results from water tested in those wells, he replied, "No. When you put in a groundwater plan, you schedule them (the wells) to be sampled when you do the others. They will be sampled in October so everything will be on the same cycle.
"The MOU's requirement was to establish two new monitoring wells downgrade on the site," Cheney said. "It was their (the state's) requirement that we do that and we will (have water tested and report results) at the next time."
Murphy also criticized the MOU saying, "If you look at the document closely, the state is limited as to the basis of denying the permit.
"The truth is that TDEC can do what ever it wants to regarding issuing the permit and the public won't have any recourse," Murphy said.
The MOU reached between TDEC and Waste Management "appears to have been based on something that is not apparent in the files" that Murphy, her associates and her clients are examining, she said.
Wednesday she was deposing James Clark, a TDEC geologist, "and didn't find anything" that she thought was relevant to geological stability at Cedar Ridge.
There was something new, though. It's about "differential settlement," she said. It "has to do with strain on a liner over 'cutters and pinnacles,'" an apparent reference to objects buried in garbage that might cut a hole in thick man-made fabric used to underline the area to be filled.
Federal guidelines require such liners. Previously, liners could be made of clay. Before that, there was no requirement for a liner. Elsewhere, that's proven to be problematic, as liquids have leaked from old landfills.
Still, Murphy contends, cutters and pinnacles have "nothing to do with any new information on the geology out there...
"The fact is that there is a whole layer between the rock formations where there are voids, drop-out factors, and nobody has provided new information" on that, Murphy said.
"Nothing has changed since February," she said in an apparent reference to Feb. 8, 2010, when Cedar Ridge Landfill submitted to TDEC a lengthy response to the issues and concerns raised by TDEC in its notice of intent to deny the requested expansion permit.
"There are no new discoveries about the same site," Murphy said. "The same risk factors are still there."
"We have also been provided (by GeoSyntec, a independent firm with offices in Knoxville and Atlanta) further stability analysis which further supported all the analysis that we provided previously," Cheney said.
Furthermore, as indicated by photos taken in late July, the company has "excavated the sinkhole to bedrock and everyone is in agreement that it is what we described it to be and it will be stable," Cheney said.
Murphy demurred when asked about comments that might be made in letters before or during her and her associates' attendance at the Solid Waste Disposal Control Board meeting to be held 10 days from today.