Loudon to renegotiate terms of landfill contract

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

The Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission will consider a range of options when it begins to renegotiate the terms of its contract with Santek Waste Services, Inc., the current operator of the Matlock Bend Landfill.

The waste commission learned from an auditor recently that it was not putting aside enough money to cover the long term closure and post closure costs of the facility.

The Santek contract with the waste commission is unique. Matlock Bend Landfill is the only landfill operated by Santek that does not require Santek to be responsible for closing costs. The commission has sole financial responsibility for closing of the landfill, said commissioner Steve Field.

One option is for the commission to ask Santek to take responsibility for closing portions of the Matlock Bend Landfill before the company’s 20-year contract ends in 2027, Field said.

“Closing parts of the landfill early will reduce the stakeholders’ liability,” he said.

Some older sections of the landfill have already been closed. As the newer portions are filled in it will be possible to partially, if not completely, close some of them, Field said.

The closure process starts with placing a plastic liner on the section being closed. Soil is placed on top of the liner and gas vents are installed. In the final stage, grass is planted on the soil. The land is monitored during the post closure period.

Newly appointed solid waste commissioner and county commissioner Brian Jenkins said he’s encouraged with the possibility of having Santek handle some of the closure costs.

“If we can get them to close parts of the landfill early it will lessen our costs,” he said.

The negotiations could take several months and might explore a range of options, Field said.

Santek has the option to increase its tipping fees or fee charged for load of waste handled. Santek set the tipping fee in the original contract. Asking to raise tipping fees can be problematic, he said.

“The garbage business is very competitive. Santek has competition. It may be difficult for them to raise their rates,” Field said.

Cheryl Dunson, executive vice president of marketing at Cleveland, Tenn.-based Santek, said the company had not yet discussed the partial closure option. Santek is open to suggestions, she said.

“We’ll put all the options on the table and try to come to a mutually beneficial solution,” she said.

Jenkins said the waste commission will also look at new options to invest the money that has already been accrued for closure and post closure costs.

“We’d like to see a better return on the investment if possible,” he said.

The flexibility with which the county can invest the landfill closure funds is regulated by state guidelines, according to Trustee Chip Miller. The county cannot invest the funds for terms of more than 24 months without special approval.

The county wants to makes sure enough money is available to close the landfill while also having enough on hand to be able to pay for any environmental incident or other emergency that might occur in the short term, Miller said.

According to TDEC spokesperson Shannon Ashford, landfills are required to post enough financial assurance to place final cover on all active areas and maintain and monitor the landfill for 30 years after closure.

Matlock Bend Landfill has submitted an application to TDEC to expand the landfill. The proposal would place additional fill over a significant portion of the landfill. If this modification is approved, this will change the timing of the closure of the landfill, Ashford said.