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Macon to purchase additional landfill property

Macon County is taking the final steps to expand its landfill life expectancy by 60 years, likely the last expansion before the county will have to figure out a new plan for disposing waste. 

Commissioners recently approved purchasing two tracts of land that will enable the county to expand the current MSW Landfill on Pannell Lane in Franklin. For a total of about $1.5 million, the county plans to purchase 14.5 acres from Donald Burling at 256 Pannell Lane and 8.3 acres from Charles and Wendy Dalton at 198 Pannell Lane.

Solid Waste Director Chris Stahl presented the alternative site analysis to commissioners, which determined the Pannell Lane properties were most suitable for the landfill expansion out of 17 possible sites.  

Commissioner Ronnie Beale asked Stahl if he found anything surprising during the site analysis process.

“The big take away was that I’m pretty confident this will be the last landfill ever built in Macon County,” he said. 

Fortunately for the county, the Daltons and Burlings were willing to sell their property. Otherwise, the county would have had a hard time finding a suitable location — and even if it did — it would have cost millions more to build all new infrastructure, including a scale house, recycling facility and a convenience center. 

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After examining the alternative sites, Stahl said all the others had some sort of flaw that would make it impossible to construct a landfill or make it extremely costly. One site had a fault line, one was restricted by historic preservation issues and another had a road cutting through the middle of it. 

The current landfill, which is adjacent to the property being purchased by the county, is estimated to reach capacity by the end of 2016. The landfill is 22 acres and has been permitted since the mid-90s. While the county is spending $1.5 million to purchase 23 acres, Stahl said only 10 acres would be actual landfill space. 

Since the Little Tennessee River runs along the property, Stahl said the landfill buffer would be expanded as well. He said the landfill had to be 300 feet away from the river or any wetlands near the river and 500 feet from any residence. 

Stahl expects the additional land will accommodate the county’s waste needs for at least another 60 years. He said it could be longer if recycling continues to increase and if new technologies are made available in the next 40 years. 

Commissioners weren’t thrilled about expanding the landfill, but they said it was something that had to be done. Commissioner Paul Higdon motioned to move forward with closing on the property and it passed unanimously.

“It’s something we have to do — let’s bite the bullet and pay for it,” he said.  

Stahl said many counties in North Carolina are buying capacity at other waste facilities and hauling their waste out of county or even out of state to Georgia and Tennessee, including Swain and Jackson counties. Haywood County still has a landfill but a private company is now managing it. 

Stahl said the county looked into hauling its waste to another site, but it would cost more than expanding the landfill. Stahl said a financial analysis was done last year to see if expansion or hauling was a better option. 

Hauling costs are difficult to predict on a long-term basis since diesel fuel prices fluctuate regularly. As available space decreases at other landfills, demand increases along with the tipping fees to dump trash.

“When we ran an analysis for the whole life of the facility — 60 years versus transporting for 60 years — the savings for the county was almost $1 million a year by expanding,” he said. 

While that is just an estimate, Stahl feels certain that as the county better manages its waste and recycles more, the savings could be more and the landfill could last longer than anticipated. About 30,000 tons of waste a year is going into the landfill and about another 8,000 tons is being recycled. 

“The variables with transporting out are beyond our control,” he said. “Those variables are likely to rise.”

The county might be able to find capacity at a landfill in Georgia for the next several years, but transportation costs will continue to increase as the county has to keep driving farther to find available space. 

“Potentially we won’t be burying trash forever,” he said. “There are new technologies on the horizon and hopefully it won’t be that expensive in 60 years.” 


Public comment

Although no one is happy to see a landfill expanding near his or her residence, there was little public comment throughout the process. The town of Franklin held a public hearing Jan. 5 to receive input before rezoning the Pannell properties for the landfill expansion.

Angela Moore said she was in favor of the rezoning because the property should have never been residential any way with the landfill in place. 

Susan Schlatter, a Pannell Lane resident, didn’t have any opposing comments — she only asked how big the buffer would be.

“We don’t want to drive down Pannell Road and see the landfill every day,” she said. 


How do other counties dispose of trash?

Jackson County 

• Hauls waste to Waste Management R&B Landfill in Homer, Georgia, 90 miles one way.

• Hauled about 27,337 tons in 2014

• Total transporting costs for 2014 were $1,142,393

Swain County

• Hauls waste to Waste Management Landfill in Homer, Georgia. 

• Hauled about 7,970 tons in 2014

• Total transporting costs for 2013-14 were $390,749

Haywood County

• Contracts with private company, Consolidated Waste Services 

• Hauls waste to county landfill in White Oak Community 

• Total costs is $315,000 for hauling from the convenience centers to White Oak.

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