Bulging at the waste: Loudon facility facing shortfall despite record intake

Despite record intake, facility facing shortfall

By Hugh G. Willett

Monday, September 17, 2012

By Hugh G. Willett

Special to the News Sentinel

LOUDON Loudon County is processing more waste per capita than any county in the state and is facing a shortfall in revenue required to eventually close the Matlock Bend Landfill, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The county has also failed to meet a state-mandated 25 percent reduction in waste processing and faces a review that could result in penalties, according to a July 27 letter from TDEC to the Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission.

"It is my understanding that Loudon County has had the highest disposal rate at a little over 3 tons per capita disposal for several years for the state," said Meg Lockhart, TDEC spokeswoman.

All of the counties in the state's top 11 waste processors met the 25 percent waste reduction goal except Loudon County, she said.

"I am told that Loudon County will be undergoing a qualitative assessment in the coming months to identify the reasons why they did not meet the goal," Lockhart said.

A small but vocal group of residents has been asking the County Commission to take action to oversee the waste disposal commission because they fear mismanagement related to the facility's long-term obligations.

"Despite all the waste they are processing, they are not generating enough revenue to pay off the projected long-term closure costs of the landfill," said Loudon County activist Pat Hunter.

The Matlock Bend facility faces unusual waste disposal challenges, said Steve Field, chairman of the LCSWDC.

For a small county with a low population, Loudon produces a great deal of industrial waste, he said. The combination of locally generated waste plus out-of-county industrial waste results in a high per capita ratio of waste, he said.

Kimberly-Clark and Tate and Lyle, both with operations in Loudon, and PSC Metals of Knoxville are the biggest industrial waste disposers in the landfill, Field said.

TDEC's Lockhart noted that the composition of the local industrial base also has an effect on the amount of waste a county has to process.

"Another factor that could come into play are the various industries in a particular area that use local landfills for waste disposal in lieu of diverting the material," she said.

Some Loudon County residents have complained that the county takes in too much out-of-county waste. When Aileen Longmire was a member of the LCSWDC back in the 1990s, the commission promised residents that the facility would be for in-county waste only.

"They changed that in 2007 when they decided to bring in more waste from a 150-mile radius," Longmire said.

Despite the increase in waste from out-of-county sources, a private auditor projected a shortfall in post-closure costs, now estimated at more than $7 million.

"If they are bringing in more garbage, you would think that they are projecting a surplus; instead they project a shortfall," Hunter said.

According to TDEC, LCSWDC shows a negative change in net assets due primarily to an increase in the utilized capacity of the landfill, which in turn required a larger adjustment to the estimated liability for closure and post-closure costs than in previous years.

One of the causes of the increased estimate of closure and post-closure operating costs was a slope failure at the landfill in November of 2010, which required the landfill's operator to rebuild the failed slope and add stabilizing fill material, TDEC said.

These remedial measures used up some of the landfill's remaining capacity without any corresponding increase in operating revenues for the used capacity, TDEC said.

Cheryl Dunson, marketing manager for Santek, the Cleveland, Tenn.-based company that manages the landfill, confirmed that Santek is not responsible for closure costs for the landfill. She said the Loudon contract situation is unusual.

Field said the commission decided to handle closing costs so that the county would be able to manage the funds in escrow itself rather than relying on an outside party to estimate the costs.

The commission has asked for an independent study to examine closure costs and to make sure there is enough money available, Field said. A request for proposal has been circulated to qualified contractors and advertised in the local newspapers.

Longmire said she wants to know why the commission has waited so long to deal with the problem of too much waste. Such problems were outlined in a five-year, county solid waste plan delivered in 2001.

"To date, the region has not met the mandated waste reduction goal. The causes for not meeting the goal appear to be 1) growth in the region, 2) lack of infrastructure for the solid waste program and 3) the need for an organized waste reduction effort. The priorities for the region in the next five years are to obtain accurate disposal data, develop reduction programs aimed at achieving the mandated goal, and choosing a long-term disposal option," the report.

According to Hunter, the county needs a comprehensive recycling program. She recently urged County Commission to get behind an organized recycling effort that would include all municipalities in the county and the schools.

"Even if they recycle, they will never meet the 25 percent reduction goal unless they reduce out-of-county waste," Hunter said.

The county is just beginning work on a recycling program that should help meet the waste reduction goal, Field said. The upside from not meeting the 25 percent reduction goal is that the county is eligible for a grant to help fund waste-reduction efforts, he said.

Gordon Harless, manager of the county convenience center that currently handles recycling, said he has discussed with local municipalities a plan to implement a countywide recycling program.

The grant could be used to purchase equipment, including a rear-loaded recycling truck. The truck could pick up recyclable waste from the schools and from the curbside pickup programs that could be implemented by individual municipalities, he said.