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State-approved expansion of Rhea’s landfill will provide decades of capacity, better control of odors

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: An expansion of the landfill in Rhea County will extend its life by 30 years or more while reducing odor an

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: An expansion of the landfill in Rhea County will extend its life by 30 years or more while reducing odor and better managing methane gas emissions, according to county officials.


County officials said surrounding counties stand to benefit, too.


“When we bought that land years ago, we bought about 200 acres, and we only permitted about 38 acres of it, and we’ve operated that until now,” County Executive Jim Vincent said in a phone interview. “We’re about two years — at the max — from capping it off.”


That portion will be closed after the new one is opened.


The permit issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation on Dec. 28 authorizing the new landfill covers the transition from the old landfill to the new one, according to the permit. Vincent said he worked about a year to get the permit, which allows an expansion of about 40 acres at the property off Smyrna Road about halfway between Dayton and Spring City.


“What that does is it gives us another entirely new landfill, that has a life expectancy — depending on how much outside waste I let come in — of 35 to 40 years, so it puts us in wonderful shape,” Vincent said. “The financial drain on counties that do not have landfills is really harming them financially.”


Rhea County’s out-of-county landfill customers include Bledsoe, Cumberland, Hamilton and Roane counties, Vincent said, noting it’s important to take in regional waste to defray operating expenses and aid communities across the region. Rhea County first privatized its landfill in 1999.

“You can’t financially support a landfill without taking in other counties’ waste,” he said.


There were 57 landfills in Tennessee two years ago. That figure has dropped to about 30 as some county landfills reached capacity or ran out of land space for expansion, Vincent said.


“Several of those are scheduled to go offline this year and next,” he said. “It’s getting to be a real problem.”


Rhea County is in a position to provide some relief.


“What it comes down to is we’ve got 95 counties, and we’re running out of landfill space,” he said. “Rhea County’s very blessed, and we’ve still got space to do another expansion at a later date.”


Vincent said other waste disposal methods could come into play in the future and could extend the life of traditional landfills or even replace them. Either way, Rhea County is set for several decades.


Middle Tennessee’s largest landfill in Rutherford County lost a legal bid to expand by almost 100 acres after a Davidson County chancellor’s order sustained the county’s rejection of the expansion plan. Rutherford County officials applauded the ruling saying the community doesn’t want an expansion at the Middle Point Landfill. Middle Point accepts trash from 37 counties, and its owners have said it will run out of space by 2028.


Southeast Tennessee’s Class I landfills — the type permitted for all types of household trash — are shown on an interactive online state map created by TDEC. Besides the landfill in Rhea County, there are three other Class I landfills in Bradley, McMinn and Hamilton counties in the Chattanooga region.


According to the state’s 2015-25 solid waste and materials management plan, Hamilton County’s landfill in Birchwood has more than 50 years before it reaches capacity, while Bradley’s landfill has 19 years left. In McMinn, the county’s landfill has ceased operation, but the privately operated Meadow Branch Landfill, west of Athens, has 12 years of life left.


Marion County has landfill property, but it hasn’t been permitted for burial of trash, and that’s not likely to change, County Mayor David Jackson said. Marion’s trash is being hauled from a transfer station to the Meadow Branch Landfill in McMinn County.


“You’ve got to put the garbage somewhere,” Jackson said in a phone interview. “I’m glad Mayor Vincent was able to get that done.”


Rhea County’s landfill is operated under a third-party contract with Chattanooga-based Capital Waste Services, according to permitting documents. Costs of the newly permitted expansion will be incurred by the company under the contract with the county for management.


“The good thing about this new permit is it’s more advanced than the old one, because things have changed a lot,” Vincent said. “We’ll be putting in methane gas burn-off equipment and, hopefully, we’ll even mine that methane gas, which reduces the odor by about 60%. That’s our plan.”


Vincent acknowledged the environmental hazard a landfill poses to groundwater and believes the new landfill will present much less of a health risk with all the fluids in the garbage. Those fluids — called leachate, which is contaminated liquids generated from water percolating through a solid waste disposal site — will be contained by a liner installed at the bottom and up the sides of the landfill to prevent fluid loss.


Leachate from the new landfill will be treated by the wastewater treatment plant, Vincent said. That’s a significant improvement over the leachate containment ponds in use now and helps address environmental issues posed by the fluids entering the water table.


Vincent said dirt is flying at the new landfill.


“We’ve already started on the expansion,” he said.