Is an end in sight?Two decades later, closed landfill is still costly
County leaders are still taking steps and spending money to address environmental issues at a long-closed landfill in Waynesville.
It's been 21 years since waste was last buried at the former landfill off Francis Farm Road in Waynesville, but regulations that cropped up long after the site closed still must be followed.
The landfill began accepting waste in the early 1970s when state regulations did not require liners or leachate collection systems as they do today.
The county quit accepting waste at the landfill in 1993, and the official closure letter from the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (N.C. DENR), which oversees landfill operations, did not come until December 1995.
After the county dump in Waynesville closed, all waste was sent to a lined landfill in White Oak that complied with regulations adopted nationally and by the state.
Lack of a lining at the Francis Farm site has led to groundwater and methane gas issues. Landfills create methane gas as the buried solid waste decomposes and rainwater that that seeps through the heaps of garbage leads to groundwater contamination.
Both problems have led to strict oversight by the state, including a notice of violation for exceeding methane gas levels at the property boundary in 2000. So far, the county has taken corrective measures and spent more than $1 million on the landfill, and additional costs loom, including those for property purchases and capping the landfill.
In 2012, a gas-to-energy facility was completed on the property whereby the methane is collected from an elaborate piping system and flows into the Haywood EMC power grid, generating 60 kilowatts per hour when the generator is running, said Randy Siske, environmental program coordinator for the Haywood County solid waste department. The county receives credit for the electricity used from the site. An average North Carolina household consumes about 41 kilowatts in one day.
The facility is equipped with a gas collection system that produces a slight vacuum on the landfill, which helps reduce the amount of combustible methane that could potentially migrate off the property. In the event the engine is not running, the facility was designed with a flare that destroys the methane that would otherwise escape, Siske said. Burning methane converts the gas to carbon dioxide, which is about 21 times less harmful to the ozone layer.
There have been 21 methane extraction wells installed at the landfill, 12 of which double as leachate extraction sites. The leachate pumps to and is processed by Waynesville's waste water treatment plant. To date, about 1.5 million gallons of groundwater has been treated from the site, said Stephen King, director of solid waste management for the county.
There are 13 methane monitoring wells on the property and 31 groundwater monitoring wells, which allow the county to monitor possible water contamination on the property and on nearby private properties.
Maintenance on the cap is ongoing every year as the county constantly adds dirt to areas that have settled, keeps it mowed, cuts vegetative waste from the wells and repairs rusting storm drain pipes in the surface water conveyance system.
"The problem is that even maintaining what we have is not sufficient. We are exhausting all means and the next step is doing an assessment of corrective measures, which is required by the state," King said.
What engineers have found is that the current cap is not efficient enough to keep the water from percolating through the waste, something that will be vital in the corrective measures.
Ignoring the continuing issues at the old landfill is an option for county leaders, but it's not a viable or financially feasible one. That's because the state penalty for doing so could cost the county $15,000 per day until state crews come in to take care of it instead.
The landfill came up for discussion once again at the most recent county commissioner meeting, this time to approve funding for two projects working toward correcting the problems.
The first order of business was the need for maintenance on the landfill cap, which is too porous.
The soil chosen for the project will be inspected to make sure it includes as much clay as possible and little rocks and sand as possible. Soil will be placed on the cap, which will be topped by a geosynthetic liner and then more soil will be piled on top of that.
"It's a lot of soil. In some places they may have to bring it up as much as six feet," said Siske.
The goal of the cap maintenance is three-fold, said Siske. It will reduce the amount of leachate, which will reduce the amount potentially entering the groundwater. It will also allow for better control of the amount of methane escaping from the site.
Basically, the goal is to keep methane in for more effective collection and rerouting, and keep rainwater out.
Best estimates show the project will require about 100,000 cubic yards of dirt. Hauling dirt is an expensive endeavor, and distance plays a big role in the price. But using leftover dirt from a nearby construction project on Highway 209, a site about 4 miles from the landfill, for cap maintenance could save the county about $1 million.
"With the opportunity to get this dirt, we had to jump on that," King said.
Even so, the cost of hauling and other work on the cap comes to about $390,000. On Monday, county commissioners gave the green light to accept the bid from NHM Constructors, LLC for hauling the dirt and site preparation for the cap maintenance.
Getting the dirt from the NCDOT project was fortuitous for the county, commissioners agreed.
"It's kind of like an opportunity has presented itself and we need to take advantage of it," said County Commissioner Kevin Ensley at the meeting.
County Commissioner Mike Sorrells said he is familiar with construction bids and knows a good deal when he sees one.
"I was very pleased with that number because that is a very cheap way of getting it done…it's a really good price," he said.
Commissioners also voted to appropriate $200,000 to purchase an adjacent tract of land owned by the Shelton Living Trust. The property will create a larger buffer zone between the landfill and nearby private properties. It will also serve as a staging area to drop off the soil for the cap maintenance.
It will likely not be the last property purchase the county makes in an effort to create a larger buffer zone to expand the landfill property further past a gas line that exceeds the lower explosive limit.
Currently, the county is in good standing with NCDENR.
"The state does not mind us continually working to correct the problem," King said. "If we're sitting back doing nothing, that's when they are going to start writing violations. DENR is very well pleased with the progress we are making. They are glad that we're taking care of the situation without them having to assess fines."
Haywood County is not alone on these issues.
"The problems out there are not just isolated in Haywood County," King said at the commissioners meeting. "It's basically all the landfills that come from this time frame."
The state gave the county permission to move forward with the assessment of corrective measures this week.
Though it's unfortunate that a landfill closed two decades ago is an ongoing problem for the county, it's something commissioners agree must be dealt with.
"It just is what it is," said Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger. "It needs to be corrected, and we have a responsibility to correct it."
And it's likely to be an issue that will always need attention.
"When you are in the landfill business, you never get out of the landfill business. There is a constant need," King said.