Loudon County residents wait to hear if former Poplar Springs landfill is hazardous

By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

Friday, July 18, 2014

Loudon County residents concerned about environmental issues at the former Poplar Springs landfill are still waiting for answers months after the county first disclosed it was engaged in legal action related to the landfill.

Late last year county Mayor Estelle Herron authorized the disbursement of $18,000 in legal expenses from the Solid Waste Disposal Commission fund designated for long-term management and closure of the landfill.

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At a subsequent meeting of the waste commission early this year it was revealed three law firms, Nichols and Ford representing the city of Loudon; Scott and Pemberton representing Lenoir City and Kramer Rayson representing the county, had been paid $6,000 each to address an unspecified legal issue relative to the Poplar Springs landfill.

Former solid waste disposal commissioner Aileen Longmire has been following the workings of the solid waste commission longer than just about anyone on the current board. She said she believes the public has a right to know whether the landfill poses a health or safety hazard.

“If there is no hazard, why don’t they say so? If there is a hazard, residents should be told,” she said.

The News Sentinel made a public records request in June for information related to problems at the site of the former landfill. County Attorney Robert Bowman, who also works for Kramer Rayson, said information about the subject is protected by attorney-client privilege.

“We are working on the issue. It is going slower than I like because a concerned party is not yet at the table. We will make an announcement once a game plan is established. Until then, we will not consider waiving any privileges,” he said.

According to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesperson Kelly Brockman, TDEC’s Division of Solid Waste Management (DSWM) is in the process of investigating a complaint about a closed municipal landfill located on Poplar Springs Road in Loudon.

The complaint alleges that leachate is being released from the closed landfill. Since this landfill closed in the 1980s before requirements for groundwater monitoring were in place, the DSWM is also collecting baseline information on ground water use in the immediate vicinity of the landfill, she said.

Last week residents in the Poplar Springs area received a survey from Ashby Barnes, environmental specialist with TDEC Division of Solid Waste Management.

The letter, dated July 9, said TDEC is conducting a water use survey in the area of Poplar Springs Road, Notchin Hill Road, Smallen Road and Thompson Road in Loudon County.

The purpose of the survey is to determine if the residents in this area have private water wells and if they are using private wells or springs for domestic purposes such as drinking the water, bathing and cooking. The survey also included questions about whether livestock were being watered from the well.

“If you answer yes to any of the questions, would you allow the Division to sample your well or spring as necessary?” the survey asked. The letter, dated July 9, requested a response to the survey within seven days.

Poplar Springs resident Ray Chadwick received a copy of the TDEC letter. He doesn’t use well water but he wants to know if the environment within walking distance from his home has been contaminated. Chadwick first spoke before the Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission and the County Commissions earlier this year. At that time he expressed his concern about health hazards at the former landfill.

He also provided eyewitness testimony to pollution seeping from the ground near the bottom of landslides on the old landfill site and flowing into a nearby creek. The creek flows roughly along Thompson Road and into the Tennessee River above the intake for the water supply for the city of Loudon, he said.

Chadwick said he only knows of two homes on his road still using well water. He said he’s encouraged to see TDEC is asking questions about the possible groundwater contamination. He is still waiting for answers about the nature of the contamination and who is going pay for the damage, he said.

The property went into the hands of private developers after the landfill closed and was eventually put into the hands of Capital Bank through foreclosure. An LLC known as Loudon County Farms recently purchased the property.

The Solid Waste Commission is preparing to transfer about $438,000 into a separate account for the Poplar Springs landfill closure.