Loudon landfill has commission worried

Site expects to fill up with cash shortfall

Entrance to the Matlock Bend Municipal Solid Wate Landfil in Loudon County Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010. The landfill managed by Santek Environmental Inc., Cleveland.

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

The Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission will have to try to renegotiate its contract with the company operating the Matlock Bend Landfill following the release of a study that confirms the facility is not taking in enough money to cover its closing costs.

“The currently permitted landfill will likely exhaust its remaining capacity in 2019, prior to the termination of the operating agreement with a shortfall of approximately $4.9 million,” said a draft of the report conducted by Knoxville-based Geosyntec.

According to Steve Field, chairman of the LCSWDC, the shortfall is still just a projection. It all comes down to how much, Santek Waste Services, the Cleveland, Tenn.-based company that operates the landfill, charges for tipping fees at the facility, he said.

“We are going to have to work something out. Somebody has to pay the costs of closing the landfill,” Field said.

Under the current contract, Santek charges $1 per ton or 5 percent of the tipping fee. The Geosyntec report predicts that a cost of $3.86 per ton would be necessary to meet projected closing costs. An expansion of the facility awaiting approval by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation would lower the necessary rate to $2.32 per ton, the report said.

Plans for a natural gas extraction system managed by Santek might add to the cost, the report said.

“The permitted impact of an active gas extraction system and acquisition of soil from outside of the waste boundaries should be further evaluated to determine if it is appropriate to include them in the Closure/Post Closure cost per ton. These issues could potentially increase the C/PCC liability by an additional $0.55 per ton for the currently permitted landfill and $2.00 per ton for the expanded facility,” the report stated.

Field said the current contract with Santek, which was reviewed by the commission’s attorney, could have been better written. A revised contract might include the ability to make adjustments to tipping fees every few years, he said.

“The challenge is now to work with Santek to agree on a rate structure that works for both of us,” he said.

Santek has managed the Matlock Bend facility since 1988 and considers itself in a partnership with the county, said Cheryl Dunson, executive vice president of marketing for Santek. The company is open to negotiation, she said.

“We understand they are not collecting enough money. I think they will find us a very willing partner,” she said.

Dunson said that overall, Santek was pleased with the Geosyntec report.

Field also pointed out that the report found few problems with the operation of the landfill. The report outlined “opportunities” to improve the operations, he said.

The solid waste commission ordered the Geosyntec study last year after audits warned that the facility was using up space faster than predicted and not taking in enough revenue.

“They didn’t need to spend $35,000 on a study. It was easy to see this coming,” said Loudon County activist Pat Hunter.

Hunter and other citizens who live near the landfill spoke before county commission several times last year expressing concerns about the management of the facility.

County commission began looking into the issues at the landfill following the audits that showed liabilities for the closing costs and reports that the facility had failed to meet TDEC goals for a 25 percent waste reduction.

“I am concerned. We as a commission need to take a more active role in the management of the landfill,” said county commissioner Sharon Yarbrough.

Yarbrough said the commission should have more insight into day-to-day operations at the landfill and be more involved in activities. She said she would like to see the commission taking a more active role in environmental issues facing the county, including a county-wide recycling program.

Hunter said she is concerned that the solid waste commission members who created the current contract are still on the board.

“They didn’t listen to us before and it’s the same people,” she said.

Field said he is confident in the board’s ability to manage the future of the landfill. The board has one new member, county commissioner Brian Jenkins, a Loudon Police officer, he said. Lenoir City businessman Ted Wampler was recently appointed to the board by county mayor Estelle Herron, but stepped down due to other commitments. His seat on the board is open.