COVINGTON- Time is running out for Newton County to begin mandated upgrades to its landfill, according to the engineers who oversaw the successful application for the permit to expand it.
In order to expand, the county committed to a corrective action plan to address contamination from the old, unlined cells by fully excavating the waste and placing it in new, lined cells. One of the unlined cells is supposed to be excavated by 2017. Before that can be done, the portion of the other unlined cell that extends into the 200 foot buffer must be moved, and the county has not even started.
Meanwhile, the only lined cell in the landfill only has about six years of capacity left with current disposal rates.
J. Steven Harbin of Harbin Engineering and John Gardner of Smith Gardner presented a detailed overview and history of the landfill Tuesday to the Citizen Solid Waste Panel.
The panel was formed in response to public backlash to a proposed deal to lease the landfill to a private company, Green Hill P3, which would open the landfill to trash from surrounding areas and likely apply to expand its footprint. The county would use the lease payments to buy 424 acres adjacent to the county landfill from the East Georgia Land & Development Company, which is threatening to build a private landfill there.
Gardner, who worked on the landfill for 10 years, said the bulk of their work for the county ended when the new EPD permit was issued last year based on the corrective action plan to address groundwater and air contamination.
Since then, the county has made no effort to contact him or seek his expertise, despite engaging in negotiations with two private companies to privatize operation of the landfill and settle a lawsuit over an adjacent piece of land.
“It would really be appropriate for the county to reach out and engage us in some of this,” said Gardner. “We feel a commitment to seeing this thing through.”
Gardner and Harbin explained that the original landfill was divided into two unlined cells: One for municipal waste, and the other for construction and demolition waste (C&D).
A third, lined cell was built about 10 years ago to meet environmental standards introduced in the early nineties, costing about $4 million total.
A fourth, lined cell was approved but was never constructed.
The intention was to relocate the waste from the old, unlined cells into the new, lined cells. After a period of three years, the old cells could be lined and refilled with new waste, in what the engineers described as a “leap frog” pattern.
Gardner praised former Newton County Landfill Operator James Peters for “packing it down,” to maximize space, adding, “[Newton County’s] numbers are above average” for density. Peters resigned last month.
Once the old waste is separated from valuable dirt and placed in new, lined cells, the entire area of the landfill would be filled in, creating one giant, continuous, lined cell. As permitted, the expansion would create a hill 780 ft. above sea level, or about 40 to 50 feet above Lower River Road. At current disposal rates, the landfill could serve Newton County for another 77 years.
The cost of building a new lined cell and excavating old cells will be in the millions. Although Harbin and Gardner were hesitant to speculate, they said $8 to $10 million over the next decade was “not unreasonable.” That figure does not include post closure fees.
“It involves some tough decisions in terms of finances,” said Gardner. “The clock is ticking.”
“There is some flexibility but decisions have to be made,” he said.
However, he added that the county could likely get several million dollars of funding, either directly or through reimbursements, from the hazardous site inventory program.
The cost could also be covered by revenue from increased tipping fees and annual fees for the use of the convenience centers, which the Board of Commissioners has already agreed to.
The engineers also pointed to several other counties that are taking innovative approaches to waste disposal, recycling, and fuel energy, such as Lamar County, which predicts a five to 10 year return on its $26 million investment in a pyrolysis plant.
Gardner said he had started the process of researching what it would take for the county to implement the landfill expansion for minimal cost when his contact with the county tapered off.
“We were trying to put all the major pieces to make decisions in the hands of the people who need to make decisions,” said Gardner.
According to statements from Green Hill and the East Georgia, the county’s decision to stop pursuing its own expansion and upgrades appears to have coincided with the beginning of negotiations to privatize operation of the landfill.
The Citizen Solid Waste Panel has been charged with recommending solutions to the county’s solid waste program, which is currently running at a deficit of about $2 million a year.
Harbin said any expansion of the current landfill, or creation of a new landfill, would trigger a lengthy application process, including obtaining letters of consistency with local zoning, land use, and the solid waste plan, with public hearings throughout.
“Sometimes getting local approval is more onerous than state approval,” said Harbin. “It’s a long process.”