Naked City

Northeast Neighbors Say No to 'Mt. Trashmore' Expansion

Operators of a more than 700-foot-tall Sunset Farms landfill met with unhappy Northeast Travis County neighbors Saturday at the Travis Co. Exposition Center. Residents are eager for the unpopular trash dump to close, but representatives of BFI Waste Systems of North America, Inc., the company that runs the landfill, didn't have good news for them.

Company representatives instead asked for residents' and the county's approval of a 75-foot vertical expansion to the landfill, which neighbors, who enthusiastically rejected the request, have come to refer to as "Mt. Trashmore." BFI representatives presented residents with a contractual agreement they hoped to make with the county for the expansion, which stipulated that the landfill would cease operations by 2015. The dump has 5 million cubic yards of unused space, the equivalent of five years of capacity, but needs more space to ensure it doesn't reach capacity before it has a new location, BFI says. "We want to get out. We hear you. We just need a little time," said BFI district manager Heath Eddleblute. "We want to be able to maintain service to customers at a competitive price." Com-pany representatives stressed that the requested expansion is significantly less than what they had originally planned, down from 15 million cubic yards to 9.5 million.

Trek English, president of the Northeast Action Group, says BFI's contract is riddled with potential loopholes and emphasizes growth over relocation. "Don't ask me for a 30-year trash can and tell me you're going to leave in 10," said English, who has crusaded for over a decade against BFI's landfill, as well as an adjacent landfill owned by Waste Management of Texas, Inc. Both landfills are within two miles of her home. English and other neighbors repeatedly and hotly referred to the lack of credibility BFI has in their community. ("You're not entitled to an expansion because you haven't proven to us that you can operate a landfill without putting our lives in a constant state of disarray," English charged at one point.) There was severe runoff and flooding around the BFI landfill as recently as March, she said, and neighbors aired complaints at a June meeting about persistent odor problems.

In a letter to neighbors that summarizes the proposed agreement, Eddleblute promises "significant operating restrictions" to address truck traffic problems and windblown trash, and agrees to "aggressively control offensive odors." He blames BFI's lack of credibility on "a few management changes" over the years, the company's having "not done a good enough job communicating with neighbors," and the fact that residents "don't completely understand how some of the regulations work."

Robin Schneider, director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, sees the county's closer attention to BFI's operations, as well as the recent announcement that the county would use its eminent domain authority to help BFI secure a new facility, as a triumph. "Our combined forces have finally lit a fire under the politicians. The county is now beginning to enforce environmental laws."

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