Emails: Loudon County knew of runoff problems a year ago

Hugh G. Willett

LOUDON — An attorney for the Loudon County Solid Waste Commission was notified by a commission member in 2012 about runoff problems at the Matlock Bend landfill, but the issue was never discussed in a public meeting.

The commission has come under fire from residents living around the landfill, including a local farmer, who have complained that runoff from the landfill has been responsible for the deaths of pets and farm animals.

Complaints by longtime commission member Ted Sitzlar were discussed in private email exchanges between attorney Bud Gilbert and Cheryl Dunson, marketing vice president at Santek, the company that manages the landfill.

Copies of the emails obtained through a public records request show that on March 1, 2012, the attorney received an email from Sitzlar about runoff from the landfill.

“I went out again this morning and the pond area on my property is standing in about 20 inches of water and probably comprises approximately one half-acre of water. This time there is some discharge draining toward the ‘slew’ and on toward the river, but the majority of flow is being contained on my property,” Sitzlar wrote.

Emails over the next few days also discuss a video made by Sitzlar showing the runoff. Sitzlar, who has not responded to attempts to contact him at his home, later went to visit TVA officials to discuss the issue, the records show.

He resigned from the commission last year.

Sitzlar wrote that he walked the flow onto his property all the way back to the landfill.

“There is not another active water runoff anywhere up that valley except for what is being discharged from the landfill,” he wrote.

He describes the water as “foaming in several areas” and the erosion as “amazing.”

“It seems very apparent that the landfill has changed the landscape to that valley as it seems to be the single source for doing the most erosion damage from its storm water runoff. I took pictures of the surrounding topography to show there is absolutely no other active water runoff except for that pouring out of the landfill,” he wrote.

Sitzlar’s emails noted the runoff was crossing other tracts of private property.

“I’m the only property owner who has seen this, but this flow from the landfill crosses at least three other property owners, who I’m sure have not taken a trip down the steep hillside of their property,” he wrote.

Sitzlar’s property on state Highway 72 near the intersection with Matlock Bend Road is next to property owned by Janice Reese. She recently complained about the expansion of the landfill and about runoff crossing her land. She also said her well water is not safe to drink and that sinks have turned black from the water.

On a recent visit to the Reese property, her 16-year old son, Trevor, under directions from his mother, acted as guide for a reporter and a photographer. He pointed out a drainage channel that starts at the landfill and runs downhill along the Reese property line towards Sitzlar’s land and Watts Bar Lake.

The channel was not flowing that day, but the ground was wet and covered with slimy, black silt.

Sitzler in later emails continued to express concerns about runoff on TVA-supervised land along Watts Bar Lake.

“I would be amazed that TDEC would find us in compliance with that much runoff and erosion taking place and ending up in a TVA watershed,” he wrote.

In further discussion by email, Sitzlar described his interaction with TVA and Santek. He said Santek offered to help him deal with the runoff on his property, but he declined the offer because he thought it might appear to be an impropriety to have Santek working on the land of a waste commission member.

Waste commission chairman Field said he is concerned about runoff at the landfill. A recent audit of the landfill approached the issue as a top priority, he said.

He also said Santek tests the water in the runoff ponds and other locations around the landfill. The water in the retention ponds is supposed to be non-toxic. The primary concern with the runoff is not pollution, but silt and erosion, he said.

Loudon County activist Pat Hunter, who attends and videotapes most of the waste commission’s monthly meetings, said she was surprised to learn about Sitzlar’s complaints.

“I wonder why they never discussed this problem during the open meetings?” she asked.

Hunter said she has been complaining for years about closed-door maneuvering by the commission.

“They use the lawyer as a go between so they don’t have to discuss controversial issues in public. It’s a violation of the (state) Sunshine Law,” she said.

Field said he recalls mentioning the issue at a commission meeting. He said he asked Sitzlar if his concerns had been addressed by Santek. He said Sitzlar acknowledged his concerns were addressed.