Landfill issue has returned

Friday, July 6, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Waste Management Inc. is asking Marshall County commissioners to change their zoning resolution to clear a path toward expanding Cedar Ridge Landfill again.

The request is unanimously recommended by the commissioners' Solid Waste Committee for consideration at the 6 p.m. July 23 meeting of the county commission in the Courthouse Annex.

Meanwhile, Cedar Ridge Landfill on Monday started accepting trash deliveries for burial, but it's a slow start.

"There will be a ramp-up phase of up to 30 days," said Robert Cheney, director of business development and strategic planning for Waste Management in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama.

Cedar Ridge Landfill "will be generating more revenue" for the county's Solid Waste Department, led by Director Morgan Thomas, according to Cheney.

Reopening the landfill, generating revenue for the county, changing the county zoning resolution, and renegotiating the company's contract with the county in anticipation of another expansion and redistribution of host fees paid to the county were discussed Thursday, June 28, when the Solid Waste Committee met in the Annex.

After years of litigation and public meetings, Waste Management acquired use of a state permit to cap a sinkhole and use the land - property that's surrounded on three sides by buried trash - for continued disposal of rubbish on 87 of 350 acres owned by the company.

Waste Management has hired a contractor to expand the territory where trash may be buried as permitted by the state since disposal of litigation against expansion on property known as Cell 7. That cell has the capacity to extend the life of the landfill for perhaps six years, depending on the rate of deliveries.

Renewed dumping comes with a resumption of Waste Management's payment of host fees that are paid on a per-ton basis. The money is channeled to the solid waste fund, but it could be renegotiated if and when the landfill is expanded again. One suggested change to the contract is to have some of the host fee money go to the county's general fund.

An early step toward that was taken several years ago when Waste Management purchased land that fronts Old Columbia Highway and adjoins the landfill. The purchase was from the Coble family. The land included the Coble home across the street from County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett's house. Waste Management said it bought the Coble property to have a source of dirt used to bury deliveries of trash.

Now, company leaders say they want to expand dumping operations onto the Coble property.

"But there are some things we need to clear up," Cheney said.

Cedar Ridge Landfill is on land that's classified as an M-1 zone, meaning it's a use of land permitted in that classification after approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Changes to the zoning code are suggested and if they're accomplished, the company would ask to have all the landfill's 350 acres rezoned to an M-2 zone that, with the suggested changes, would allow expansion of trash burial on the Coble property.

Zoning code changes are being requested now, Cheney said, because it was March 2007 when the company started the process to get permission to expand trash disposal onto Cell 7.

"We didn't expect it to be taking all that five years," Cheney said.

If zoning codes are changed as requested for a vote July 23, then Waste Management would request that the landfill be rezoned to an M-2 classification.

At the same time, Waste Management would request county commissioners to permit expansion of the landfill through an approval process outlined in state statute commonly called the Jackson Law.

Having heard explanations with greater detail, Marshall County Commission Chairman Mike Waggoner, a member of the Solid Waste Committee, moved to amend the zoning code as requested and to direct the county attorney to draft a resolution for consideration during the July 23 meeting.

His motion was seconded and unanimously supported by Commissioners Anna Childress, Seth Warf and Phil Willis. Commissioner Sheldon Davis was absent.

Before the vote, Warf asked if the resolution had to be considered by the Planning Commission. Waggoner said it didn't, explaining as chairman of the commission, he "can direct" where a resolution should go.

"I don't want to restrain these guys," Waggoner said.

"I don't know how we can come up with $1.5 million a year to haul off our trash," Waggoner said.

In Tennessee, landfills can be directed by a county government to pay a host fee for disposal of trash. Here, the fee is sent to the Solid Waste Department, which keeps half and pays the other half for operation of convenience centers.

With Stites & Harbison Attorneys, Cheney concluded that distribution of host fees can be structured "any way you want," meaning it could be spent on operating costs of the department, convenience centers and general government.

"It would be great to have a percentage going to the general fund," Waggoner said.

Meanwhile, county commissioners were across the hall in the Courthouse Annex working on the budget for fiscal year 2012-13. Technically, the fiscal year started July 1, but without enough numbers to calculate a property tax rate, document for the tax rate and spending plan are not ready for a vote.

Information for a proposed resolution is to be provided to the county so that it can be filed before the July 9 deadline to have a vote on zoning code changes on July 23.