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County ready to enact landfill ordinance

Wednesday, May 18, 2005 by

IESI would need variance under new rules

The city’s proposed landfill deal with IESI – set for City Council approval on Thursday—is right in the crosshairs of Travis County’s proposed landfill ordinance.

That ordinance, the culmination of almost three years of work with neighbors and landfill operators, is broken into two parts: how the county deals with existing operators and how it will deal with new and expanding sites.

The general consensus of county officials, after a long rehash of the landfill issue, is that the county has little legal ground to stand on when it comes to opposing landfills. And straight siting criteria gives the county little control over existing operators. Distance requirements have done nothing to stop Waste Management Inc. and Browning-Ferris Industries—considered to be problem operators by their neighbors—or even hinder the two landfill operators from proposing further expansion of their permits.

“We ran into somewhat of a logical log jam. You can look at any of these types of sites, and its really about the siting and the operational issues,” Environmental Officer John Kuhl told commissioners at yesterday’s meeting. “You have the nuances of the prevailing winds and the tracts of land and the flood plains…What we decided was that it was better to just concentrate on those subject areas that are most important in our relationship to the landfill operators, such as odor, wind-blown litter, traffic… those types of things that make solid waste facilities not the best neighbors.”

The solution, as County Judge Sam Biscoe has suggested to commissioners in the last couple of weeks, is a two-pronged approach. The first strategy is a siting ordinance for new or expanding landfills that provides some distance between the landfills and receptors such as churches, water wells or homes, as well as exceptions for those who want variances from the ordinance.

Under the variance provisions, the operator would have to negotiate with the county over how the landfill will handle methane gas, internal buffer zones, odor control and soil cover. The county also sets conditions for environmentally sensitive design.

As an existing operator, IESI would fall under the variance provision. The landfill site backs up to a creek. An expansion would need a variance, County Judge Sam Biscoe confirmed. IESI Regional Vice President Jeff Peckham noted that the Type I city and Type IV IESI landfill sites would be joined by an expansion. Refuse on the site would be limited to Type IV construction and development debris, he said.

Environmentalists already firmly oppose any variance at all. Area residents have pictures of household trash on the IESI site and say that debris brought to the site is not thoroughly controlled.

Biscoe said he would take another week of comments on the ordinance, then post the ordinance for a 30-day review period. He also proposed a second strategy for existing landfills, specifically BFI and WMI. His strategy included:

1. BFI and WMI must close their northeast Travis County Type I landfills by a date-certain of June 1, 2015. BFI can accept Type IV waste until 2017;

2. Travis County will make relocation of BFI and WMI’s Type I landfills its priority, up to and including acquiring new greenfield sites through condemnation. Once those sites are found and permitted, the two landfill operators must agree to relocate their Type I landfills immediately;

3. Travis County will emphasize and enforce compliance with applicable landfill operating standards, including the adoption of an ordinance for Type I and Type IV landfills;

4. Commissioners Court retains the right to oppose any permit expansion application based on performance at current landfill operations or demonstrated progress toward location and acquisition of greenfield sites; and

5. Commissioners Court will oppose any permit expansion application by Waste Management and approve a performance-based agreement with Browning-Ferris.

Bob Gregory of Texas Disposal System, who testified before the Court, argued the strategy for BFI and WMI put TDS at a disadvantage. Given the lag in the process, both BFI and WMI were ready to move forward with expansion permits, which would take them out of the reach of the new siting ordinance. On the other hand, TDS – which has a good operating record – kept its word to the county and held off on developing its own expansion permit. For that agreement, TDS will be one operator that will likely have to comply with the new expansion standards set out by the county.

Commissioners, however, said they needed to move forward with the process. The strategy for existing landfill operators passed on a final vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Ron Davis voting against the motion. Davis said he wanted more input from the neighborhood. When Trek English protested that she needed more time to review the latest document – re-drafted over lunch — Commissioner Gerald Daugherty balked, saying that English had seen every item in the draft during negotiations that Biscoe facilitated between the neighbors and the landfill operators.

Council weighing IESI contract

Leffingwell cites concerns about safety, environment, public process

Council Member-elect Lee Leffingwell sent an email to the City Council yesterday, expressing concerns about the proposed contract between the city and IESI that would allow the private company to take over operations of the city’s landfill on FM 812 south of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Leffingwell, who is taking a brief vacation with his late wife’s family, told In Fact Daily, “I don’t have all the facts, but I have just heard a lot of concerns.” He listed those concerns as environmental and aviation safety-related, adding that he thought the decision required more public process. The contract is on Thursday’s Council agenda.

Leffingwell said he was impressed by concerns raised by members of the Solid Waste Advisory Commission as well as those of local pilots. Leffingwell was a military and commercial pilot before retiring. “There seems to be at least the possibility that a landfill located in the takeoff/approach path of the north-south runways at ABIA could present a significant aviation hazard. It seems to me that it could prove very difficult to adequately enforce measures which exclude certain types of trash that would attract birds.” Although the site has operated as a Type I landfill, meaning it takes in a variety of municipal solid waste, it will become a Type IV landfill under IESI. Jeff Peckham, regional vice president for IESI, explained that a Type IV landfill takes only construction and development waste. “It doesn’t attract any more birds than the natural habitat would,” he said.

“We have onsite people from dawn to dusk, all hours of operation, and the site is fenced and will be fenced in its entirety,” said Peckham. He also said the company had agreed to take more precautions than required by state regulations. That includes an agreement to cover new waste “on a daily basis and fully cover (the site) on the weekend. We’ll either cover it with dirt or with a tarp,” Peckham said, “and that’s the same process used at most landfills, but (Type IV) landfills can be left uncovered for a week.” In addition, he said the company had developed a wildlife control plan “to make sure we will deal with any problems that might develop. We have not experienced any issues . . . There’s nothing the landfill is going to cause to happen.”

Bob Gregory of Texas Disposal Systems, the only other bidder on the landfill, has not only questioned the process by which IESI got the contract, but has also predicted dire consequences if the city does the deal. He said in an email to Travis County Commissioners, “It is my opinion that it may be the biggest environmental liability decision the City Council could make, if the City approves the proposed contract. I encourage you to monitor this process, since the expansion allowed in the proposed contract could significantly increase the likelihood of another land/trash slide into Onion Creek like the one that occurred at the City landfill in 1991.” But Peckham suggested that TDS was raising questions not because of legitimate concern but because the company wanted to eliminate the competition.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez voted against the decision to proceed with the contract last November. (See In Fact Daily, November 19, 2004)..Some other members of the Council may not be ready to proceed on Thursday either.

Council Member Danny Thomas said he had concerns related to the Solid Waste Advisory Commission’s failure to recommend the contract. He said he would be gathering more information today so he could decide whether to vote to postpone the item tomorrow. Thomas said he wants to be hear more from the contract’s opponents, while being considerate of IESI as well.

But Council Member Daryl Slusher pointed out that the Federal Aviation Administration has approved city and IESI-operated landfills on FM 812. He said his major concern was the cost to the city of having no Category IV landfill.

Peckham said the city is currently incurring costs estimated to be $500-800,000 per year. If the contract goes into effect as of Sept 1, many of those costs would be eliminated. The city would have to continue to operate the current leachate collection and handling and the city will continue to operate the landfill gas system, which Peckham described as a benefit to the city. IESI has offered to pay the city $1.5 million within 60 days of signing the contract and millions more later. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) must approve IESI’s permit to operate the landfill, which Peckham described as a two to four-year process with “full public hearings.” The contract could be in effect for 65 years, including tending the landfill after it is filled with debris.

New aquifer district chief on board

Kirk Holland begins as General Manager

The new General Manager of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, Kirk Holland, came away from his first day on the job Monday looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead of him, realizing that there is a lot of work to do.

“I’m really just beginning to become familiar with the issues, policies and procedures so I can get up to speed,” he said, trying not to pinpoint what his biggest challenge might be. “It’s probably premature for me to make that kind of assessment at this point. I’ve talked to both the staff and our board. There are also a lot of stakeholders with various perspectives on this. My immediate challenge is to become familiar with how they view the issues and how they view the district’s role.”

Holland, hired earlier this month after a three-month search by the BCEACD board, brings more than 25 years of experience in environmental sciences and organizational administration. He held a variety of positions with Radian of Austin from 1973 to 1997, and has been the principal of HSC Consultants in Austin since 1998.

He said the district is already in good hands. “I think there’s a pretty good consensus among the current board members, He said. “Certainly there’s different constituencies represented on the board, but I think they all take the mission that’s presented to them as directors of the district very seriously, that’s to protect and enhance the ground water resources of the district.”

According to information provided by the district, Holland has led more than 100 consulting projects dealing with ground water and surface water supplies, as well as dealing with water pollution issues, permitting support, and environmental impact reporting.

“I have a technical background in hydrogeology, groundwater availability and groundwater pollution assessment. That’s probably the most helpful to me in this position because we’ve a good hydro-geologist aboard here at the district, and some very good resources available on some advisory committees,” he said. “I think I bring the experience in staff management, staff development, program management and corporate administration that will help us accomplish our mission in a cost-effective fashion.”

Holland also said he’s ready to deal with a potentially hostile regulatory environment. “I won’t say I’m intimately familiar with all of the issues, but I’m certainly aware of the pressures,” he said. ”Water is a precious resource in Texas, To a greater or lesser extent, every legislative session brings pressure coming from various special interests and the public for various changed approaches to some things. That just kind

of comes with the territory. I’m confident that the mission of the district will remain intact. We’re certainly willing to work collaboratively and cooperatively with other stakeholder groups—public and private—as long as the mission of the district can be put on a pedestal and protected.”

Even being mindful that he is the district’s fourth manager in four years, Holland said he is ready for the challenge.

“One of the things that excites me about this is that much of my work in my career has been towards the prudent, wise use and conservation of groundwater resources for the past 30 years,” he said. “I believe that the district has a very important mission, along with other groundwater districts in the state, and I’m looking forward to what the job brings.”

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Long night made longer. . . The Zoning and Platting Commission worked well past midnight Tuesday, hearing from residents of the Galindo Neighborhood Association and tennis players about whether they should grant a conditional-use permit for new courts at the South Austin Tennis Center Facility. Public testimony was interrupted shortly after 9pm by the building alarm at City Hall. ZAP Chair Betty Baker declared, "We're out of here!" and emptied the Council chambers as the alarm went off. There was no fire, and citizens were allowed back inside shortly after 10pm . . . Wal-Mart case reopened . . . The ZAP also agreed to re-consider two environmental variances previously granted for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on FM 620. The Board voted 6-3 in favor of the reconsideration, with Commissioners Janis Pinelli, Keith Jackson, and Chair Betty Baker opposed. Attorney Richard Suttle did convince the commission to hear the case at last night's meeting instead of postponing the hearing until the first meeting in June. He argued that Wal-Mart had worked extensively with the neighborhood groups surrounding the site, had reached out to other neighborhood organizations, and generally gone above and beyond the city's requirements when attempting to solicit feedback from neighborhood organizations. Those neighborhood groups now bringing complaints, Suttle said, had passed on plenty of opportunities to be involved in the process. "To rescind tonight has far-reaching implications," he warned the commission. "That means that anybody at anytime that doesn't like a decision can ask you to put it back on two weeks later, claim there's new information, and throw the whole process into a 'do loop' every time." The commission did not begin hearing the case until after 1am . . . Rock crusher bill up for hearing . . . The House Committee on Environment Regulation is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 785 at 8am this morning in the Capitol Extension, room E1.026. This bill would increase requirements for traffic safety and public notice for quarries and rock crushers, such as the one causing such angst in Hays County. Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) and Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) are sponsoring the bill . . . Fundraiser Thursday . . . Supporters of Place 3 candidate Jennifer Kim are meeting at the Speakeasy Rooftop for happy hour and politics at 5pm Thursday . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board will meet at 6pm in the district’s offices. The only item on the agenda relates to the City of Austin's negotiations with 2428 Partners, LP, for the creation of the Winfield Municipal Utility Districts. The city is scheduled to discuss the MUD proposal at Thursday’s Council meeting . . . The Environmental Board is scheduled to meet at 6pm tonight in City Council chambers . . . The Downtown Commission will meet at 5:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall.

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