Loudon residents concerned about Matlock Bend landfill growth

Purchases near Matlock Bend hint at expansion

By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
Loudon County residents living near the Matlock Bend landfill are concerned about continued expansion of the facility and are alleging that unauthorized activity is occurring after hours.

Representatives of the Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission and the company running the landfill deny that unauthorized dumping is occurring.

"County Commission is not overseeing the landfill," said Aileen Longmire, a 35-year resident of the area.

Recent purchases of property around the landfill signal expansion that will devalue surrounding properties and possibly pose a health risk, Longmire said.

Lawrence Johnson said he has watched the landfill edge closer to his property over the years. He also claimed to see trucks entering the facility after hours.

"It's going to make it hard to sell my house," he said. "It will cut my property value in half."

Earlier this week, Johnson told county commissioners that the Solid Waste Commission that regulates the landfill is acting without proper supervision.

Johnson said he has been stonewalled by members of the Solid Waste Commission and landfill operators when he has complained about uncovered trucks carrying fly ash, late-night dumping or problems such as a November landslide that resulted in a violation from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

"They won't even tell us if the landfill is in compliance," he said.

Solid Waste Commission Chairman Steve Field said the seven-member volunteer panel tries to accommodate all requests for information but is working without any staff support.

"We are in the process of trying to bring all the records online," he said.

Pat Hunter, a Loudon County activist who has campaigned for open government, said she has been told that records, such as copies of the contracts with private waste management companies, are not available.

"We have been denied draft copies of the minutes from the meetings, despite an opinion from the state office of open records affirming that draft minutes should be available for public inspection," Hunter said.

Draft copies of the commission minutes do not even exist officially until they have been reviewed by the commission legal counsel and submitted for approval by the commission, said C. Coulter Gilbert, an attorney for the Solid Waste Commission.

County Commissioner Brian Jenkins represents the district in which the landfill is located. He said that after hearing Johnson speak to the commission earlier this week, he is concerned about the allegations.

"I want to learn more about what's going on," he said. "The residents of that area should have access to the records."

Longmire has been fighting the landfill since the county acquired the original 151-acre property by eminent domain in 1987. She said she is concerned about her health because her home uses well water. She said the only reason the county would continue to purchase land is to expand the landfill.

In July 2010 the county acquired five acres on state Highway 72. Another 41 acres was purchased by the county that same month for about $472,000.

Another 50-plus acres is currently in the process of being acquired, Longmire said.

An expansion of the landfill is awaiting TDEC approval, according to Cheryl Dunson, marketing manager at Santek, the Cleveland, Tenn.-based company that operates the landfill under contract from Loudon County.

The current expansion for permit modifications was submitted in August 2009 and involves about 26.5 acres. Santek has no plans at this time for expansion on the land that the county has recently acquired, she said.

Field said the Solid Waste Commission has to plan ahead for the county's disposal needs, and the purchase of the land supports those long-term needs. Still, the landfill is not expected to expand beyond its historic boundaries, he said.

Dunson denies allegations of after-hours dumping. Gates are locked at night and video cameras are installed, she said.

"That is not happening. I take exception to that allegation," she said.

According to Field, Santek does have "on-call" contracts with some of its customers that might require after-hours access to the landfill. Such activity would still be conducted within the facility's legal guidelines, he said.

The Matlock Bend landfill is currently under an enforcement order for a Nov. 2 landslide in which as much as 100,000 cubic yards of material slid down into a part of the landfill that was not protected by an underlying barrier.

According to TDEC spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton, the state's review of the application for landfill expansion is currently suspended pending analysis of the slide and subsequent mitigation. After the review resumes, the department's Division of Solid Waste Management will make a tentative finding, then issue a public notice and solicit public comment before a final permit decision is made regarding the expansion, she said.