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Macon approves $1.5 million for landfill expansion

With its landfill nearing capacity, Macon County is taking steps to add a new cell before the existing area fills up about two years from now. They’ve had another phase permitted for about 20 years, but rather than just install a liner in that property and call it a day, the Solid Waste Management Department is looking to buy an adjoining property to add to that already-permitted cell. 

“The landfill cell is kind of narrow and bends at one end, so if we can square that off, expanding the footprint by about 35 percent yields a 300 percent return in volume,” said Chris Stahl, department director. “That’s a pretty good return on investment and could basically triple the life of the current permitted landfill.”

The property, totaling just under 23 acres, would cost the county $1.5 million. The purchase would mean a total 32 acres of lined landfill in the new cell, with additional acreage buffering the edges and the nearby Little Tennessee River. In their Oct. 14 meeting, county commissioners voted unanimously to allow Stahl’s department to go ahead with the purchase. But that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. 

“To this point what we’ve done is we’ve got an option [to buy] on these two properties and a six-month due diligence period,” Stahl said. 

Which basically means that the money is there to buy the property and the owners have agreed to sell, but the county has to inspect the property and do some comparisons to make sure that site is the place to build the landfill expansion, not somewhere else. They’ve already completed an analysis to investigate whether it would be cheaper to build or to ship waste somewhere out-of-county. 

“That analysis came back pretty heavily one-sided that the best thing moneywise was to expand the landfill,” Stahl said. 

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Once full, the existing landfill will be capped with 2 feet of dirt, a synthetic geomembrane and another 18 inches to 2 feet of dirt. Grass will then be seeded in on top of that. Methane wells will be drilled to let the gas out, and the county will monitor cap integrity, landfill gas and groundwater for at least 30 years. 

“Our existing landfill has an estimated capacity of 16 to 20 years. The expanded landfill gives us an expected life of 45 to 60 years,” Stahl said. “To be honest I’d tend to use that 60-year mark.”

The reason, Stahl said, is that compaction rates have gotten a lot higher over the years, allowing more waste to be stored in less space. However, it’s hard to project for sure. Factors such as population and waste production per capita can also change the numbers. 

The county has a plan, but it’s still far from set in stone. 

“It’s early yet and I’ve got about a million things to do before we can have that analysis and get it ready to bring to the board,” Stahl said.

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