Landfill expansion gets OK

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More than two dozen Marshall Countians dug out their green "Stop the Landfill" T-shirts and took a chartered bus to Nashville to attend the Solid Waste Disposal Control Board's special called meeting Monday.

"We just wanted them to know we have not gone away," said Tri County Environmental Association leader Kathy Fox.

Fox was disappointed, but not surprised, by the outcome of the four-hour meeting: a 5-2 vote in favor of allowing Cedar Ridge landfill to use the eight acres in Cell 7 for trash disposal. This gives the landfill west of Lewisburg an estimated seven more years of active life.

"You saw payoff today," exclaimed Nelson Sweeney on the bus ride home. "You saw TDEC in the pocket of big business. Those that don't live close to the landfill don't think it's a problem."

"The state already had their mind made up," agreed former county commissioner Jimmy Wolaver.

County commissioner Don Ledford, former chairman of the solid waste committee, didn't go that far, but he said the outcome was "no surprise," and commented, "We didn't see a decision based on the evidence."

"They are the sorriest neighbors I've ever had," said Alfred Wakefield, who overlooks Cedar Ridge from the sunroom of the house he's lived in since 1953. "They don't cover that stuff up every night like they're supposed to. It's a terrible thing what I'm having to put up with."

Wakefield was one of the people who signed up to comment at the special called meeting. Members of the SWDCB heard impassioned speeches both for and against, as well as explanations.

David Henry, assistant general counsel for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, spoke first. He explained that TDEC initially denied Cedar Ridge's application to open Cell 7 in April 2010 because department officials were not convinced of the geological stability or the monitorability of the area, which includes a large sinkhole.

Cedar Ridge, a wholly owned subsidiary of Waste Management Inc., made a timely appeal against the decision, Henry said, and this led to negotiations and a Memorandum of Understanding detailing what actions Cedar Ridge needed to take to convince TDEC that Cell 7 was fit to use.

"They (Waste Management) showed a sincere willingness to work with TDEC," Henry said. Monitoring wells were drilled, dye studies were conducted, and the sinkhole was cleaned out down to bed rock, while the geology of Cell 7 was explored for evidence of any more voids that could become sink holes.

"The MOU was a road map, not a permit," Henry stated. All the work was carried out, and Cell 7 passed with flying colors. TDEC, Henry said, was convinced that there was no potential for surface collapse, and using the area for garbage "will not cause significant degradation of ground water."

"If you approve the agreed order, the permit will be issued," Henry concluded.

John Williams, representing Cedar Ridge, reminded the group that TDEC first permitted a landfill at that site in 1990, and Waste Management bought it in 1998. The application to use Cell 7 was made as long ago as 2007, and did obtain Jackson Law approval from the County Commission, the City Council of Lewisburg, and the Maury-Marshall Solid Waste Board.

"Cedar Ridge has attempted to be a good citizen of Marshall County," Williams said.

County Commissioner Anna Childress agreed with him.

"If it (the landfill) goes away, the citizens would have to pay a disposal fee of $200 to $250 per household per year," she said. Childress quantified the landfill's economic benefit to Marshall County at over $1 million annually, from property taxes, scholarships, tipping fees, charitable donations, convenience centers, and jobs for 37 people.

"I think Cedar Ridge is a benefit to Marshall County," Childress concluded.

Lewisburg Mayor Barbara Woods continued in the same vein, adding that local industries had told her they would find it almost impossible to operate if their trash had to be hauled all the way to Middle Point landfill near Murfreesboro.

"Our citizens are stretched to the limit right now paying bills," confirmed county commissioner Seth Warf. "We're asking business to move in to Marshall County; we need to keep a business (Cedar Ridge) we already have."

Fox, who formed Tri County Environmental Association in 2008 to fight a proposed new landfill south of Cornersville, spoke against extending Cedar Ridge.

"Waste Management has not provided information that proves they will not create a disaster in Marshall County," Fox said. "They have a history of violations at Cedar Ridge."

Property owner Scott Dennis was directly affected by the most recent of those violations.

"Everything at Cedar Ridge is not as rosy as we've been led to believe," he said. Leachate from a broken pipe at the landfill polluted Vickery Spring and Vickery Branch in 2009. Dennis's horses, whose only water source was the branch, had to be removed from his property for three months.

"We think illegal acts have occurred," said Dennis as his 10 minutes ran out. "I plead with this Board to deny this. I'm baffled that anyone would even consider an expansion."

This was received with scattered applause, and a loud "Amen" from Wakefield.

Geologist Mark Quarles, who introduced himself as a "consultant for Marshall County residents" also asked for denial, backing up his request with a wealth of technical detail.

"This site is Swiss cheese," Quarles, an expert in Karst geology, exclaimed. "It's still un-monitorable."

Attorney Elizabeth Murphy, counsel for Tri County Environmental, the Dennis family, and the Garrett family in other cases involving Cedar Ridge, raised legal arguments, and described the difficulties she had getting information. She also asked in plain language, "Why permit something that has not been successfully managed?"

Fox asked members of the board to "Look beyond the money. Respect the preciousness of healthy human life."

In closing arguments, Henry pointed out that the denial of the expansion was based on science, and now the approval was based on more science. He said concerns had been resolved to TDEC's satisfaction, and that the contested case had been resolved by an agreed order.

"There's often a lot of emotion involved in environmental issues," Williams acknowledged. He said words like "disaster," "horror show," and "notorious" were totally inaccurate when applied to Cedar Ridge.

"This is a good landfill; a well-run landfill," Williams said. "It's not a perfect landfill. There have been no violations since 2009. This is a company that cares about protecting the environment and running their landfill right."

Shortly thereafter, the vote was taken. The only board members voting "No" were the two who had asked the most penetrating questions: Dr. Jack Deibert of the Institute of Higher Learning and Sherry Sloan of the Tennessee Environmental Council. Those voting yes were Michael Atchison, Jared Lynn, Bob Booker, Elaine Boyd and Albert F. Smith.