Poplar Springs Mess

Over the last few weeks, I've posted several stories from the News Herald about the old, closed Poplar Springs landfill. The situation at the old landfill is complicated but a great example why local government should never be involved in any kind of private sector operations. Thus far, over a three hundred thousand dollars has been spent with no results.

I'm going to try to give you the shortest, most detailed version of what has transpired to date. To do that, I have to give you a little background on the site.

The Poplar Springs landfill was located in the Notch'n Hill area of Loudon County. Kind of between Tellico Parkway and Highway 72. It was 37 acres, very small in landfill standards, and sat in the middle of 700 acres owned by Bowater Paper Company. It was operated by the city of Loudon for all three stakeholders, Loudon, Lenoir City and Loudon County. The stakeholders never owned the land but leased it from Bowater. The landfill operated from about 1980 to 1988 when it was closed and the new Matlock Bend Landfill was opened. After it was closed, not only did the state certify that it had been closed properly but that the operators had done an exceptional job with the closure. The land reverted back to Bowater who was responsible for the long term maintenance and upkeep of the property.

In 2006, Mike Ross of Rarity developments, purchased the 700 acre property, including the old landfill, with an eye to developed another upscale residential development. By 2012 Ross had fallen on bad times and the 700 acres was repossessed by the bank who had financed his project. That's when the trouble started.

At some point the bank realized the repossessed property included the old landfill and they knew they didn't want to have the responsibility for it. Bank officials contacted county attorney, Bob Bowman, and offered to give the old landfill property to the county. Of course the county had no desire to take possession of the property. During this time, it was discovered that the old landfill did have some superficial erosion of the cap after nearly 30 years.

The question was, who is responsible for any repairs. Under the previous county administration, it was decided that that question needed to be answered. Nashville environmental law firm was hired to evaluate all issues pertaining to the old landfill at a cost of $18,000.00. The report essentially stated that if there was no illegal toxic or hazardous waste in the landfill, which state testing proved there was none, all responsibility for the landfill lies with the current owner of the property. During this time, Knoxville businessman and developer, Herb Newton, had purchased the 700 acre tract of land including the landfill.   

In 2014, with the new commission and county mayor, discussions were held as to whether to move forward with repairs on the old landfill. Early estimates for repairs were around $40,000 or maybe a little more. When true estimates came in, the cost had gone to around $175,000. However, the state would kick in half the cost. In May, 2016, commission voted to proceed with the repairs. Completion date for the project was estimated to be September 2016. Thus far the project hasn't even been started much less completed yet $342,000 has been spent. Mostly on legal fees.

A few months ago, commissioner Kelly Brewster began looking into the project to find out what the hold up of the project had been. In the course of her investigation, she discovered the massive fees that had already been paid to Luna Law Group, County attorney Bowman's law firm and BDY Environmental Consultants of Nashville.

Where Did The Money Come From?

Nearly all the money spent to date came from the Loudon County Solid Waste Commission's (LCSWC) funds even though the LCSWC has never approved any of the expenditures. In fact, neither the County Commission, Lenoir City Council nor the Loudon County has ever voted to spend the money from the LCSWC funds. In fact, the commission nor the councils would even have the authority to spent the LCSWC money.

Somehow, the decision was made, by whom I do not know, that the LCSWC money would be used and all it would take would be for all three mayors to sign off on the expenditures. Nearly all the legal bills and other bills that have been submitted were approved and signed off on by County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw, Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens and Loudon Mayor Jim Greenway. Apparently, none of them had noticed the legal fees that had been paid were now double the cost of the repair project it's self. If you add the cost of the repairs at $175,000 to what's already been spent, the total cost of the project goes to $517,000. Not bad for a $40,000 project.

This project has turned into a real mess with no end in sight. And all along, the responsibility for the repairs was never the stakeholders but the property owners. Commission has currently put a stop to the project till some hard questions can be answered.

This is why local government should never be involved in private sector projects.