After a lengthy discussion Monday on long-term environmental liability at Poplar Springs Landfill, Loudon County Commission said “no” to a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation grant that would have provided funds to help remediate the property.
The grant worth $68,000 included a required dollar-for-dollar match from the county’s Poplar Springs subfund account.
Commissioner Van Shaver argued that authority rests with the Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission, which operates under a 1994 interlocal agreement between the county, Lenoir City and the city of Loudon.
“Who’s approving spending the money from the solid waste commission?” Shaver asked. “We can’t do that, but that’s where we’re saying the match is going to come from — (the) dollar-for-dollar match for this $68,000, so we’re committing $68,000 of the solid waste commission’s money, and I don’t know how we do that.
“… Even if we approve this grant, if this does fly, how is it not their responsibility to vote on whether or not they match it?” he added. “How can we vote to take their money?”
Based on consultations with county attorney Bob Bowman, the money belonged to the county and two cities, Commissioner Bill Satterfield said.
“I heard what he said, but he’s just wrong,” Shaver said. “It belongs to the solid waste commission, which was transferred to them back in the 1990s. We have no authority or control, nor do the cities have authority or control.”
Commissioner David Meers suggested Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw meet with Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens and Loudon Mayor Jim Greenway to come up with a system of accountability on how landfill grant money should be spent.
Solid Waste Disposal Commission Chairman Steve Field told the county board that invoices related to solid waste are typically approved by the three mayors, routed through the county finance office and he then approves the expenditures.
“We can’t vote tonight to spend their money, but it’s not our money to spend,” Shaver said. “It’s the solid waste’s.”
A study conducted by TDEC in January 2015 found that while Poplar Springs was free from any major contamination related to polluted soil or groundwater, the state did find leachate with eight volatile organics in low concentrations. The 35-acre site was leased to an entity called Hiwassee Land Company under its subsidiary Bowater in 1979. The landfill property is currently owned by Herb Newton under the name Loudon County Farms LLC.
Bradshaw said earlier this year that remediation of the property would cost an estimated $166,000. The county would have been the financial agent on the TDEC grant.
“We can very well leave it alone,” Bradshaw said. “We could absolutely leave it alone. Ten hours from now. Ten days from now. Ten years from now (if) we have major slide — if it’s 10 decades from now and there’s a major slide — we’re on the hook.”
Commissioner Henry Cullen was supportive of moving forward with the grant to mitigate potential environmental concerns.
“The purpose of this grant is to fix something that’s going on with the landfill right now and to protect the best interests of the taxpayers of Loudon County, so why wouldn’t we do it?” Cullen asked.
Bradshaw said the remediation project was a “preventative measure” to satisfy any liability the county could have in case of a future environmental hazard from TDEC’s standpoint.
“If something happens it is recorded,” Bradshaw said. “It is in the records that Loudon County, Lenoir City and Loudon city went above and beyond what they had to do to get this fixed, and any liability they (TDEC) would testify against it’s recorded that we did what we had to do above and beyond. They would help us in the future.”
Satterfield was also supportive of accepting the grant.
“If something happens, and we’re in court, and they (TDEC) say, ‘Well listen, you knew about this. The attorneys told you about this, and you refused to do anything at all’,” he said. “Whereas if we’re in court you all did A, B, C and D and made your best effort to make sure all these are taken care of. I think your outcome is better (because we) at least made an attempt.”
Commissioner Earlena Maples and others expressed concerns about the county paying for the remediation.
“The thing that kind of bothers me too is that it is privately owned and that the owner knew it when he bought the land what was there, so that is something that bothers me too and taxpayers still being involved,” Maples said. “If we can get sued we can get sued now or later no matter what.”
The motion failed 5-5, with Maples, Shaver and Commissioners Matthew Tinker, Harold Duff and Kelly Littleton-Brewster voting against.
Bradshaw said in a follow-up interview that he and the two mayors were still supportive of the remediation plan, which came on a recommendation from Bowman.
Bradshaw said Patrick Flood, director of the solid waste management division at TDEC, has volunteered to meet with commission to provide more insight into the county’s liability related to Poplar Springs. He was optimistic the county will revisit the measure in the future.
“I think it will be back up definitely,” Bradshaw said.
With no discussion, commission also voted to send a letter to Field on negotiations between Santek and the Solid Waste Disposal Commission to address a tipping fee deficit for closure and post-closure care of Matlock Bend Landfill on behalf the three mayors in Loudon County and the two cities.
“We recognize the long-term relationship Santek has had serving Loudon County and are quite concerned with the apparent lack of willingness by Santek to negotiate what would appear to be a minor rate adjustment back to the LCSWDC to make up for an anticipated shortfall” in the long-term care of the landfill, according to the letter. The letter also said a small rate adjustment could be “phased in over time” to make the fee more palatable.
The mayors expressed hope that Santek and the solid waste panel can come to an agreement that “accommodates” both parties.
“In conclusion, we do not support any long-term extension of the existing agreement with Santek and would encourage the LCSWDC and Santek to arrive at an appropriate funding mechanism to address this revenue shortfall in the near future,” according to the letter.
In other business, commission:
• Approved a transportation mobility plan that includes widening and repaving work, realigning intersections, renovating sidewalks and other maintenance projects along Loudon County roads. Buttermilk Road, Martel Road, Tellico Parkway, Highways 72 and 444 and Northshore Drive are included in the plan for 2016-17 at a cost of about $2.1 million, with a local share of $405,500. Road Superintendent Eddie Simpson said the remainder of the funds will come from state and federal allocations.
• Approved acceptance of a $25,000 grant for bulletproof vests for Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, with a dollar-for-dollar county match.
• Voted to rezone 7.63 acres along East Lee Highway from C-2, general commercial district, to A-2, rural residential district.