Despite the county landfill’s checkered history of relations with its neighbors, it rarely gets complaints from people living nearby, ACC commissioners were told at a work session last week.
“All landfills smell,” Solid Waste Director Suki Janssen said, mostly from organic items like food waste and ‘“biosolids,” or sewage sludge, about a quarter of which is composted and sold to the public; the rest is buried. But landfill workers try to keep odors down—and sometimes it’s not the landfill that nearby residents smell, but chicken houses nearby, Janssen said.
Odors also come from garbage trucks that aren’t always kept clean, and from “landfill gas” generated as material rots in the landfill. That’s partly methane—natural gas—and at ACC’s landfill it’s collected through a system of pipes and burned to generate electricity. Enough electricity is generated at the landfill to power over 700 average homes; once the project’s startup costs are paid off, significant revenue will go to Athens-Clarke County.
The Lexington Road landfill has been jointly operated with Oglethorpe County for 40 years, sited near a historically black community along Dunlap Road. In 1992, ACC commissioners wanted to expand the landfill, but the neighbors balked. So the county promised in writing that, if neighbors would accept the one-time expansion, the landfill would never expand again at that location.
But 20 years later, the expanded landfill was again filling up, and a 10-county cooperative effort to site a new regional landfill had failed because none of the counties wanted a big new landfill within its borders. ACC expanded the Lexington Road landfill a second time, breaking the earlier agreement with the neighbors, which the county attorney said was not legally binding.
These days, landfills aren’t the polluting and dangerously unregulated places they once were. Trash can’t be left uncovered by soil (ACC aims to cover fresh trash within 20 minutes), and test wells are drilled to check for groundwater pollution (at one time, a slow-moving underground “plume” of pollution prompted putting nearby residents on county water lines to replace their wells). In newer landfill sections, a sheet of tire-like rubber underlies the buried trash. Live animals are no longer accepted—in the past, people had occasionally brought chickens or a horse that was shot on the site—although dead ones are. Oils and grease, a prominent source of odors, are not accepted either.
“We don’t get a lot of complaints. We do get complaints,” mostly from a couple of people who don’t actually live near the landfill but say they represent residents who do, Janssen said. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division follows up on complaints, but EPD has never required the landfill to change its procedures as a result, Janssen said.
Only a handful of people attended a March meeting about landfill operations to which nearby residents were invited, landfill manager Brad Rickard said—but those who did were very interested. But in another five years, when a new phase of the landfill opens, “we will be in the front yards” of two nearby residents, Janssen said.
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