DEQ hears comments, questions on proposed landfill site
August 7, 2009
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
More than 60 people gathered to hear discussion of the environmental assessment on a proposed site for a new landfill, about 3.5 miles east of Havre. Many made comments that locating the dump so near Havre, and close to property and wells just off the site, would be a bad decision. Many seem unconvinced by the answers given by Rick Thompson, waste management section supervisor for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and Barry Damschen, the engineer who has supervised studying the proposed site. “You probably don't believe me, do you?” Damschen asked a man from the audience after he explained how the geology of the site and the proposed landfill design would keep any contamination from entering the man's water well. “No, I don't,” the man replied. The issue is relocating the landfill built in 1983, about halfway between Havre and Chinook, to a new site off of Clear Creek Road that runs off of 14th Avenue from Havre. The meeting, held at the Havre High School auditorium, presented the DEQ findings in an environmental assessment released July 20. Audience members asked and expressed concern about contamination of 10 wells near the proposed site one within about a half-mile of it and about problems with blowing trash, water runoff, smells and the creation of methane. Some contradicting opinions were voiced by public officials when asked by audience member Ted Denning if they supported the new site. When Denning asked Andrew Brekke if he supported the new landfill site, only a few miles from possible subdivisions in land already annexed by Havre, Havre City Council annexation committee chair, Brekke, said he did not. Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette, a member of the Unified Disposal Board that oversees operation of the three-county landfill, said she did support the proposed site. The existing site has served its purpose, Bessette said, but the new site will better meet the needs of the people the disposal board serves from Hill, Blaine and northern Chouteau counties. Hill County Sanitarian Clay Vincent said the landfill serves about 22,000 people from those counties, although about half of the trash taken there comes from Havre. Regulations increase costs Damschen, who has been involved in the design and construction of Montana landfills for 28 years, said that regulations enacted in 1993 to prevent groundwater contamination will require the installation of a liner in new areas to be used at the current site. He said the cost of the liners would be about equal to the estimated $1.7 million it would cost to develop the new site, including a shop and office and a recycling facility. That cost at the new site would be a one-time expense, while the cost at the existing site would have to be repeated every five to 10 years, he said. The new site is close to perfect for protecting groundwater from contamination, he said. Under the topsoil is 40 feet of glacial till “Montana gumbo,” he said then after 60 feet of sand and gravel is a layer of Bear Paw shale, which is essentially impermeable. Although wells and aquifers relocated within a mile or two of the site, no groundwater was detected beneath the site itself when test wells were drilled, Damschen said. Those factors, along with design to prevent contamination from runoff from precipitation, will allow the new site to be used without liners, he said. That would translate to about $350,000 extra in costs each year at the current site. That would increase the fees charged To the families served by the landfill $50 each year, he said. The total savings to taxpayers would be $35 million over the 100-year life of the landfill, he said. Several opponents of the new site said an extra $50 a year seems to be a small price to pay to keep the landfill 10 miles east of Havre operating. Study shows site meets needs In the assessment, DEQ found that a modern landfill operating at the proposed site would have little to no impact on areas of concern including water contamination, litter, dust pollution, creation of methane and spread of trash or illness by birds, animals or insects. The assessment recommended that unless public comments identify “significant issues or impacts that have not been heretofore identified,” the department would approve licensing the facility at the proposed site. After the meeting, Thompson said some issues raised during the meeting such as needing litter control fences on more than the east side of the landfill would be examined and addressed before the licensing is approved. In order to convince the DEQ that the licensing should not be approved, he said, people would have to provide solid evidence that there would be a problem. For example, to show that possible contamination of nearby wells should prevent the licensing, people would have to provide studies or scientific evidence that the studies already done for the landfill, showing there would not be groundwater contamination, are incorrect, Thompson said. Access to the site could come through Havre, down 14th Avenue and out Clear Creek Road then along a road that would be built to the site, or could come through a proposed route off U.S. Highway 2. Vincent said most of that proposed route would follow a public- right-of-way established in 1914. That road was used up into the 1970s, then fell into disuse and disappeared. “It is a public road. It is yours,” he said. The disposal board is negotiating with the owner of land that would be needed to complete the route to the new location of Highway 2 changes in the route left the last part of the area off the old right-of-way, he said. The owner seems willing to sign the easement, but has not done so as yet, he said. He also said he heard about a disturbing situation regarding a petition the board had circulated to be able to get the easement to build the road some people who had signed the petition came back later and had their names removed, saying they were concerned for their safety and thath of their families' because they had signed it. “Is that the way we do business here? I hope not,” Vincent said. Questions raised Several people asked why the landfill should be located so close to people, with possible water problems, litter problems, odors and other issues. Denning, who presented a letter expressing his concerns as well as voicing them at the meeting, said that while the current site never should have been selected, there must be better sites than a location three miles from Havre and right next to existing homes and wells and possible areas of development. One issue is that the site is within a few miles of one of the best aquifers in the area, Denning said, and even if it did not contaminate that aquifer it could hurt development in the area. During t h e meeting, Damschen repeatedly talked about the geological makeup of the area and the designs planned preventing any contamination. The glacial till under the proposed site would slow any seepage testing shows it would take between 437 years and 1,926 years for any contaminants to seep through that layer, he said. The design of canals and holding ponds to prevent runoff and traps to prevent leachate water transporting contaminants from the trash in the dump would prevent any contamination from leaving the proposed landfill site, he said. When Brekke asked how trapping leachate and hauling it off for treatment would affect the Havre sewage treatment plant, Damschen replied that it should be negligible. Leachate is essentially the same as sewage, he said, and should have no impact on the treatment procedures. As to the amount, he said it should rarely be needed leachate likely would not have to be hauled except perhaps in 20 to 50 years. Blowing trash was discussed, with Thompson saying comments about winds coming from other than an easterly direction would be considered in upgrading the plans. The initial plans are to have a 15-20-foot high litter screen on the eastern side to catch trash blown by prevailing western winds and portable fences around the areas being used. The system will have 20-footdeep 10-acre trenches in which to place the garbage, with the trash deposited covered by soil every night. As each trench is filled, a new trench will be excavated, with the soil from the new trench being used to cover the trash in the existing trench. After hearing about National Weather Service data that indicates winds also regularly come from the east, Thompson said DEQ will work with Damschen and the disposal board to examine installing other litter screens at the site. Requirements that personnel at the site are required to pick up loose trash and that loads going to the dump are required by law to be covered also were mentioned by Damschen and Thompson. Tom Tucker, a member of Recycle Hi-Line, said the people taking out their trash also can help solve the problem. Most of the blowing trash is plastic bags, and if people recycle rather than throwing them away, that would reduce the litter, he said. “If we start to reduce those, we reduce the problem of litter,” he added. Thompson agreed. After a sign was put up at a site in Helena asking people to tie plastic bags in knots before throwing them away, much of the litter problem at that site disappeared, he said. Hindering development? The site affecting Havre and preventing development near the site also was a common topic. Damschen and Thompson said that, especially with modern designs, the landfill should have minimal impact on the city. Little trash should escape the site, to end up either on neighboring property or blown three miles to the city, and the smell at modern landfills is negligible, Damschen said. As far as development, the two said, it has not hindered most Montana cities. Great Falls is the only major city in Montana where the landfill is not located near city residences, Damschen said. Even if the site is built away from a population center, growth catches up, he added. When Damschen helped design the Helena landfill some 15 years ago, it was out of town. The area now has been subdivided and built on and surrounds the site, probably due to the creation of a road to the landfill, he said. “Sooner or later someone will build next to it,” he said. “They catch up and build next to landfills.” Years of study Thompson said the EA was released nearly a year after it received the initial request in July of last year. DEQ worked closely with the disposal board and Damschen in reviewing and updating the request, he said. Damschen said when he initially began the study, he looked at 30 sites in the area. He narrowed it down to to the top 11, and the owner was willing to sell the property for the top site the location being discussed and the only one that would not require a liner which is unusual, he added. Vincent said the disposal board bought the property in the late summer of 2007, at $1,300-anacre, or a total of $208,000. The quality of the site is rare, Damschen said. Of some 27 landfills in the state, only about six qualify for use without a liner. Comments accepted DEQ will continue to accept and respond to written comments about the EA through Wednesday, Aug. 19. Comments can be mailed to the department at Solid Waste Program, P.O. Box 200901, Helena, MT 59620- 0901, sent via e-mail to [email protected] mt.gov. or sent via fax to (406) 444-1374. On the Net: DEQ environmental assessment, Havre landfill: h t t p : / / d e q . M t . G o v / e a / WasteManagement/Unified490- EA.pdf.