Landfill preparing for expansion

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$400,000 just a start to years-long process

By Randy Patrick

At close to half a million dollars, landfill construction is the biggest capital expenditure in Nelson County’s 2020 budget, but those footing the bill won’t notice anything different for a long time.

That’s because the 40-acre expansion involves a great deal of planning and environmental compliance before anything is actually built.

The money in this year’s budget is for the application process, archaeological study, contracting with a geotech engineer to make sure the soils meet permeability requirements, preliminary landfill design, designing a new force main sewer — things like that.

“It’s a lengthy process. It’s kind of crazy, I guess, all of the permits and the process you’ve got to do to expand,” said John Greenwell, the county’s landfill engineer and solid waste program coordinator.

The application process, he said, is in three parts. First is a notice of intent to the state government. Next is the administrative application. And third is the technical application, which is the actual landfill design and operations plan.

Greenwell hopes to have the administrative application submitted to the state Energy and Environment Cabinet by the end of this month, then move on to the final phase.

“My goal is to get the final design by the end of this year and then maybe start bidding it in three or four years,” he said.

The most important thing is to have the new section of the landfill operational by the time the part in use now is full.

“We average about an acre a year,” Greenwell said. “The current landfill is about 30 acres, so it’s lasted about 30 years. Right now, we have about eight years remaining. It seems like a long time out, but by the time you do the notice of intent application, and then you do the next phase, which is your administrative application, and then you’ve got your technical application, which is more like your landfill design,” it isn’t that far away.

Running a landfill means taking the long view.

Garbage disposal has evolved

Greenwell, a civil engineer who is educated in landfill design, finds the progression of garbage disposal interesting. On his computer’s big screen, he shows a 3D model of different expansions of the landfill — the 1960s, 1980s, 1995 and the 40-acre expansion that’s coming next, which will be done in three phases.

Since the early days, he said, people have gone from throwing their garbage and washing machines over the hillside to throwing dirt on top of them to what we have now, which is quite involved.

The big change in environmental regulations regarding landfill design came in 1992.

Landfills must now have a 24-inch, low-permeability clay liner, like the liners used in building dams. On top of that is a geosynthetic liner and another liner. When the landfill is covered, the process is similar, but in reverse, with topsoil being the final layer. There’s a leachate system to collect any water infiltrating the landfill or other liquids. And there are pipes sticking up out of the ground of a closed landfill to vent methane gas.

It’s anyone’s guess what the rules will look like many years from now.

Greenwell hopes to begin the first phase of the expansion, 10.2 acres, in about four years, but first there’s infrastructure work that must be done, including an access road all around the expansion area, a leachate pump station to send liquid waste the city’s sewer treatment plant and a new line to that plant, an aeration lagoon and aerators to shoot water into the air to collect oxygen and start breaking down chemicals in the leachate — water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the material through which it passes.

“That’s part of the pretreatment process to try to get some of the stuff out of it before we send it to the treatment plant,” the engineer said.

The salts and other solids that are separated are then buried like other solid material in the landfill.

Besides the $400,000 the county has in the budget for landfill construction in the fiscal year that begins next month, there’s also $230,000 in escrow for closing the current landfill and an additional $300,000 in reserve for capital projects.

Greenwell explained that there has to be money held to close a landfill out in case something happens and the county has to get out of the business.

Nelson County is one of the few counties that still operate a government-owned landfill. Most counties contract with private companies like Waste Management that operate huge regional landfills.

“We would rather stay smaller and benefit the customers over the next 50 or 100 years,” Greenwell said.

The Nelson County Landfill only takes garbage from one other county, Marion.

County Judge-Executive Dean Watts said that there are many ways the county landfill benefits residents. It keeps the cost of service lower and keeps rural areas cleaner because people aren’t as tempted to dispose of waste improperly if they can still take it to the local “dump” rather than have to truck it to a landfill far away.

And people are going in and out of the landfill all day, bringing everything from old shingles when they replace their roofs to appliances that no longer work.

“It’s just a great advantage for the county to have,” Watts said.