October 7, 2010 |

Landfill permit renewal issues: Water, bears

The Haines Sanitation landfill is four years out of compliance with a permit requirement that water running off the site be tested twice annually.

Sandra Woods, a specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said landfill managers are required to send analysis of four water samples per year, but none have been submitted since December 2006.

The state’s permit for the dump, issued in January 2007, expires in February. A new, five-year permit is sought.

Woods said the company’s failure to submit results of water testing was noted in a DEC inspection here on Aug. 26, when other problems were discovered at the FAA Road site, including uncovered litter and standing water in contact with waste.

"The landfill needs to be built and managed in such a way that waste is not sitting in water. That situation makes the potential for leachate much greater," Woods said this week.

A spring that runs through the landfill complicates the situation, she said. "We’d like to see them redirect it."

Litter may not seem like an issue at a dump, but it’s an attractant to bears, birds and other "disease vectors," she said. Landfill customers also are more apt to follow rules about dumping if the facility is well-maintained, she said. "It’s something that may seem like not an issue, but it’s important to have a clean and tidy landfill."

Woods made an inspection following a complaint earlier in the summer. She said owner Tom Hall would have to bring the landfill into compliance – including resuming water samples – to have the permit renewed.

Leachate – including what runs downhill into Lynn Canal – is a concern for outgoing assemblyman Norm Smith. At the assembly’s Sept. 21 meeting, Smith said he’d like to see the state sample the stream that carries dump runoff into Portage Cove.

The borough owns land downhill of the dump and water from the hillside crosses private property at several locations.

Mount Riley Road resident Dan Chavez this week said the landfill runoff was a concern for him, as a water sample he took from a creek near his front door about 10 years ago showed coliform pollution. He said he couldn’t be sure the coliform came from the landfill.

"That should be dealt with. If it tests okay, then it’s not a problem, but it should be tested because the borough owns that five acres (adjacent to the dump), and it hasn’t been tested. There’s still a big question out there," Smith said this week.

DEC’s Woods, however, said the state doesn’t perform that kind of testing, although the borough or a private party could. If the landfill’s the concern, water samples should be taken from sites closer to it than Portage Cove, she said.

Under a previous permit, Hall was required to test groundwater at the site. A change in federal law in 1996 relating specifically to Alaska, however, allows smaller landfills like the one here to test surface water instead. Hall requested the change in 2005.

A diversionary ditch steers water from above the landfill around waste. Spring water that surfaces in the middle of the landfill is routed to a site below the landfill where diverted water gathers and enters a treatment tank.

Samples that Hall is required to take come from a leach field near the treatment tank and from a natural stream system downhill from the landfill.

Hall could not be reached for comment about the water sampling. In an interview two weeks ago, he said the landfill is cleaner than many others in the state because waste there is composted.

DEC’s Woods said that’s true. "(Submitting water testing results) is part of his permit, and we want him to comply with that, but he has composted waste and that waste is less of a hazard… It has potential to be a very good landfill."

Following sightings of numbers of bears there this summer, the state Department of Fish and Game is closely watching the landfill and may request language aimed at detracting bears be re-inserted into the new permit, assistant area game biologist Anthony Crupi said recently.

The current permit, excludes language from a 2001 permit that required dump owners to "manage the facility to prevent wildlife, domestic animal and/or disease vector attraction."

In 1999, Fish and Game relocated 10 bears that had become habituated to feeding at the dump in exchange for agreement by the dump’s owner for tighter controls there. As many as seven bears were seen at the dump at one time this year.

Although not explicitly stated in the current permit, regulations prohibit the dump from attracting wildlife, DEC’s Woods said. "We don’t tell him what to do. We say, ‘You have to operate your facility so this doesn’t happen.’"

Hall said he spent close to $500,000 improving the landfill 10 years ago, when daily volumes approaching five tons threatened to push him into a higher level of regulation. Because of recycling and trash disposal by Acme Transfer, that amount has dropped to 2.5 tons per day, Hall said.

At current volumes, he could bury garbage instead of composting it, Hall said. He said he’s not responsible for bear issues in town. "It’s garbage. It smells. It’s the reality of a landfill in Alaska. Bears are coming to it."

Hall also questioned whether putting an electric fence around active areas of the landfill would help. "Who’s going to pay for it? You could put a $100,000 fence up and maybe it would work. But if (bears) don’t get what they want (at the landfill), they’re going to be going downtown."

In a recent tour of the site, landfill operations manager Richard Crosby said the facility has made strides since he took over in June. He said some problems there were due to lax oversight by previous managers.