Borough to advance taxpayer-funded solid waste program
June 14, 2018
Prompted by citizen complaints and borough staff intervention, the Haines Borough Assembly this week decided to take a more active role in waste management.
The assembly voted 4-2 to adopt six recommendations from borough manager Debra Schnabel that include reporting landfill conditions at Community Waste Solutions to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation as well as initiating a plan to develop a transfer station to collect municipal solid waste.
Borough staff inspected the landfill June 6 after receiving increased complaints from citizens, Schnabel said. In a memo sent to the assembly several hours before Tuesday’s regular meeting, the manager cited concerns including “leachate outside of landfill perimeter, trash outside of perimeter, evidence of bears, sludge leaking out of storage bins and junked vehicles on site.” Staff also took water samples from nearby streams and are waiting for test results. Public facilities director Brad Ryan presented a slide show to the assembly showing the leachate, trash scattered around the perimeter of the landfill and sludge on the ground.
Assembly member Brenda Josephson asked if borough staff had contacted the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation about their concerns. DEC is the state regulating agency who regulates and inspects the private landfill operator.
Staff have not communicated with DEC, Schnabel said.
“I have discomfort taking action without getting the test results back,” Josephson said. “You haven’t had communication from DEC, and I’d like to hear from the operator at this point, but I really think it is not appropriate for us to take action without having the information in front of us. What’s DEC say and what are the test results?”
Schnabel’s recommendations also include joining the Southeast Alaska Solid Waste Authority; consulting with that group in the development of a business plan; requesting that Community Waste Solutions halt waste burial and initiate shipment of waste out of the borough and starting a “public information campaign regarding publicly funded comprehensive SWM program to be brought to voters at October election.”
Those recommendations stem from the Haines Solid Waste Working Group, which met for more than a year. In October, the group recommended creating a publicly funded, borough- managed solid waste program that would be paid for by an up-to-1-percent sales tax, but the assembly never advanced those recommendations.
CWS owner Tom Hall last fall purchased new equipment to streamline its composting process and reduce the landfill’s footprint, but has yet to use it.
The borough should let the state do its job in regulating the landfill, assembly member Tom Morphet said, and not make policy decisions based on whether or not the landfill is or is not out of compliance with state regulations. “The condition of the landfill and what are we going to do with our solid waste in the future are entwined but they’re not one and the same and I think I would tread very lightly in terms of taking actions on a huge borough commitment because we’ve found that they’ve fallen out of compliance.”
By charter and state law the borough has the responsibility to “manage for the health and welfare of this community,” Schnabel said. “The disposal of municipal solid waste is very definitely an activity that even the state will look to our municipality and say you’re not doing what you need to do for your community.”
Morphet wanted to reject two of Schnabel’s recommendations, including initiating a public information campaign for a solid waste vote on October’s ballot and the development of a transfer station to handle collection and shipment of non-school borough waste out of the borough.
Assembly member Heather Lende favored implementing all of Schnabel’s recommendations. “It’s completely irresponsible for the borough to dump one more ounce of sludge from our sewage treatment plant up on the ground there so it can leach into the water table, down to residents’ homes and backyards,” Lende said. “It’s filthy. It’s unsanitary.”
Community Waste Solutions manager Sally Garton denied that the sludge is improperly handled. “The sludge has not, would not and will not be stored on ground,” Garton said. “It is in a covered building not exposed to weather in a cement bottom. The picture that Brad showed, they had just dropped it off and our employees were moving it into a covered area on cement.”
The memorandum and action items were not included on the assembly’s agenda or in the meeting packet. Josephson and Morphet also opposed the recommendations because the public was unaware the issue would be discussed at the meeting.
Borough staff and assembly member Sean Maidy said they were concerned the borough lacks a backup plan should the DEC shut the landfill down.
Doug Buteyn, regional program manager for DEC’s solid waste program, said the agency doesn’t generally shut down landfills. “I don’t know if there’s any community that has a backup plan. If you shut a landfill down, then you just create a greater problem,” Buteyn said. “We issue the permits and inspect them. We don’t get into the legal issues of who’s responsible for what beyond that.”
There are few private landfills in Alaska relative to municipally run sites. When it comes to concerns regarding the state-regulated private landfill, Buteyn said he assumed the borough “would call the DEC and file a complaint or at least ask the questions.”
“A number of landfills in the state have junk vehicles,” Buteyn said. “That’s kind of standard. We wouldn’t consider that something that’s wrong.”
Leachate past the boundary of the landfill would be concerning if it negatively impacted water quality, Buteyn said. CWS has a surface water monitoring program and is required to report results to the DEC. “What is in the leachate is not as important as what impact that leachate has on water quality,” Buteyn said. “That is why DEC requires monitoring of surface water near the landfill rather than monitoring of any actual leachate.”
The most recent surface water quality test results the DEC had on record date back to May 2015. The results show levels of mercury and copper that exceed state standards. “While this might be cause for concern, consideration must be given to the fact that both results are first-time events,” Buteyn said. “In such situations, because there is always the possibility of a ‘false positive’ result, the normal course for DEC is to see if the same exceedance occurs again in the next sampling event.”
CWS is required to sample surface water once a year. It is only required to report its results if metals exceed state standards, according to the company’s monitoring plan.
DEC will analyze water quality results from the landfill this spring, but will only take action against the landfill if those same metals again exceed standards, Buteyn said.
The recourse for scattered trash is minimal. “There’s a regulation that says they have to prevent that and if it happens the response is that they just have to go pick it up,” Buteyn said.
The last time the DEC inspected the landfill was in June 2016. The DEC inspector cited “what could be leachate seeps along the western boundary of the landfill” and gave the landfill a low score for failing to monitor water quality at those locations. The inspector also noted that trash was exposed in some areas and needed “additional compaction and cover” and that electronic waste, which is required to be properly stored and removed from the community, was exposed to the elements and placed directly on the ground. Despite those issues, the DEC gave Community Waste Solutions an overall score of 91 percent in its inspection report, which is considered positive.
Buteyn wouldn’t comment on the other borough concerns, such as sludge in an open bin and leaking out of storage bins. “I would have to see what’s going on in order to assess,” Buteyn said. “It’s difficult to assess just from that description.”
The sludge is added as a nitrogen source when it creates compost used to cover material.
The borough assembly will further discuss the issue at a special meeting June 19 where CWS will be given an opportunity to respond to the concerns.