GERING, Neb. (AP) — As the Gering landfill approaches a 2026 deadline for permitted capacity, Gering and Scottsbluff are working toward finding a suitable replacement site.
The cities have hired Trihydro Corp., a Cheyenne-based engineering firm, to help identify and develop the new landfill.
Gering and Scottsbluff are looking for a parcel of land within a 45-mile radius of the cities to best serve residents of the communities, as well as nearby Mitchell.
Ideally, the new site would be within a mile of a county road and without residences, surface water or groundwater wells or irrigation facilities. Availability of three-phase power is also preferred.
Among regulations from the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy are distance buffers of 1,000 feet from state and federal highways, and at least 5,000 feet from an airport, depending on type.
A few sites have already been inspected but were ruled out because they didn't meet the criteria. One of those included the Bald Peak area south of Morrill. "There are a couple of sites we're looking at now," said Gering City Engineer Annie Folck. "The goal is to get more than just one potential site to consider. The process to determine whether or not it's the right site takes quite a lot of time."
That time will be taken up with environmental studies, soil sample testing, determining the depth of the groundwater and its quality and figuring out the characteristics of the subsurface geology, according to the Scottsbluff Star-Herald.
Then comes the permitting process from the State Department of Environment and Energy and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. All the collected data will be used to design an engineered containment system that protects the groundwater and meets or exceeds regulatory requirements.
"We don't want to narrow it down to just one site and then take a year just to find out it's not a suitable location," Folck said. "We're hoping to have three or four sites that we can evaluate concurrently."
Travis Evans, engineer specialist with Trihydro, said the company is now soliciting landowner recommendations for potential landfill sites.
"Ideally, the cities would like to have about 640 acres to work with," Evans said. "That would allow them to build in some buffer zones around the landfill so they aren't adjacent to neighbors. But we'll evaluate all the candidate sites no matter the size."
He added that soil evaluation, environmental impacts, groundwater studies and its connection to any aquifers, distances from existing wells and inspection of subsurface geology are some of the things that are looked at even before conducting field work for a site investigation plan.
"Once we select a site, we go back for an even more comprehensive subsurface investigation to use in the design and permitting process," Evans said. "How long that will take depends on the time of year and the number of potential sites we have. But if we have candidate sites, we'd like to have that work done by the end of the year, but we may not."
Still, Evans said he's comfortable with the 2026 time frame the cities have.
"I've see some landfills permitted in two years and sometimes it takes longer. I think 2026 is attainable if everything goes well."
If a site can't be completed and permitted before the existing landfill fills up, there's a possibility of temporarily using an outside company to collect trash. Both Gering and Scottsbluff have stated that solid waste management services are an essential community service that should be under local control.
"By handling our own trash, we can control future costs," Folck said. "If we were to outsource collection, we'd be at the mercy of another company. Even if we look at a long-term contract, costs could still change in the future or if the company changes ownership."
Interested landowners are encouraged to contact Travis Evans at Trihydro, 307-745-7474 or by email at email@example.com.
Evans said that before the cities dive into the economics and deadlines of finding a new landfill site that will possibly last for the next 100 years, there's another more important consideration.
"We're focusing on a site that's considerate of neighbors and protective of human health and the environment," he said.