Two decades after opening a landfill to controversy near Springfield, Sarpy County is starting to wind it down.
County officials estimate the 160-acre landfill will be full around June. That's when Sarpy County's garbage will be trucked to a landfill owned by Waste Connections in David City, a 120-mile round trip.
At the current Sarpy County landfill, Waste Connections will operate a garbage transfer station.
As part of a 20-year agreement, Waste Connections, which does business locally as Papillion Sanitation, has begun dumping its own customers' trash at the Sarpy County landfill at a reduced rate. The influx of trash has roughly doubled the tonnage headed to the landfill, and as a result, it will be full about a year earlier than projected, Sarpy County Administrator Mark Wayne said.
“We want to get that thing closed as soon as we can,” he said.
All the extra garbage has meant a $3.5 million spike in revenue. That will be put toward closure costs — covering the acres of garbage with clay and synthetic lining and monitoring the site for 30 years.
Landfill director Duwaine Brigman estimated the David City landfill won't fill up for at least 35 years, longer than the contract period. (Waste Connections also owns landfills in Milford and Geneva.)
The transition will cap a 23-year operation at the 156th Street landfill, a project that was fiercely contested when it was proposed in the late 1980s to replace the old Cedar Island Road landfill near Bellevue.
Neighbors sued, worried about well contamination. The City of Springfield tried to scuttle the project with an ordinance that wound up in the Nebraska Supreme Court. Petitioners gathered signatures for a grand jury investigation of the county board.
The 160-acre “Mercedes of landfills,” as then-County Commissioner Ed Gilbert described it at the time, opened in the fall of 1990. Since then, it has accepted more than 3 million tons of garbage. When it closes next year, it will have outlived its expected lifespan by six years.
Early fears of private-well contamination proved unfounded, according to groundwater data from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.
Ed Southwick, a DEQ supervisor who oversees the 17 groundwater monitoring wells at the landfill, said one well has shown minor levels of contamination in recent years, but local drinking-water wells “are not being threatened.”
“Right now, we're comfortable that what they're doing at this moment is sufficient to protect human health and the environment,” Southwick said.
The big question: Will costs rise as Sarpy County trash travels to David City?
Not by much, Wayne predicted. The Waste Connections contract allows semiannual tipping fee adjustments to account for inflation and fuel costs, but these must be approved by the County Board, Wayne said. And the fact that Waste Connections owns the David City landfill will help offset the cost of hauling at least 20 semi loads of garbage there every day, Wayne said.
At the transfer station, Sarpy County still will have workers run the gate, and a deal with Waste Connections guarantees the county a minimum of $577,000 a year in revenue. Waste Connections will get most of the tipping fees paid by other garbage haulers who drop trash there.
“You won't see a huge jump just because we're using a transfer station,” Wayne said.
One rate increase already has been approved: The minimum tipping fee will rise to $27.92 a ton in January and $29.01 by next December — a 16 percent increase over the current minimum rate of $26.34.
At least one Sarpy County hauler figures his rates will have to go up under the new arrangement.
Because of higher transportation costs, “every hauler's going to have to raise their rates,” said Mitch Harpenau, co-owner of Gretna Sanitation.
“We have to pass that on to our customers,” he said. “It's a tough pill to swallow.”
Earlier proposals to expand the existing landfill or open another in Sarpy or Cass Counties withered in the face of political opposition. Harpenau says a longer-term solution is to increase diversion efforts so less recyclable material ends up in the landfill in the first place.