Board denies landfill expansion plans in northwest Davidson County

Landfill bitterly fought for decades by Black residents who have leveled accusations of environmental racism

The landfill operated by Waste Management in northwest Davidson County. (Photo: John Partipilo)
The landfill operated by Waste Management/Southern Services in northwest Davidson County. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Nashville’s Solid Waste Board has denied plans for the expansion of a controversial landfill that has, for decades, been the source of anger and frustration in Bordeaux, the largely African-American suburb northwest of downtown.

The decision at the end of the four-hour meeting on Wednesday is not likely, however, to be the last say on the landfill’s future.

The Southern Services landfill currently takes in 90 percent of all construction waste generated in the rapidly developing city.

With the massive wreckage wrought by the 2020 tornado and then the Christmas Day bombing later that year, landfill operators argued for a “modest, short-term expansion” of the 77-acre landfill by adding 17 more acres to extend the life of the decades-old site for 10 to 12 more years. 

The expansion plan, board members concluded, was “inconsistent” with the city’s 10-year solid waste plan, which calls for Nashville to become a “zero-waste” city.

“Having a landfill to increase construction and demolition (C&D) would go against the priority of diverting C&D,” the board found.

In previous community meetings, the board noted, residents had raised a series of objections to the landfill.

“Health concerns, livability, home resale value were all mentioned. Those concerns are also environmental and economic as well as social…the plan itself is called the Achieving Zero Waste Plan, and this proposal does not move us towards of achieving zero waste.”

“To approve this proposal would contradict the plan both in spirit and in letter.”

Waste Management officials argued that denying the plans expansion would create more of a negative environmental impact.

There is no other landfill in Davidson County that accepts construction and demolition waste. The next closest landfill that does accept the waste is 40 miles away, adding transportation costs and impacts on the environment in the form of greenhouse gases, said Don Gentilcore of Waste Management.

Gentilcore also noted that the city’s only recycling facility for construction debris sits adjacent to the Southern Services landfill. Without a continued influx of C&D waste, those recycling efforts would cease, he said.

And, Gentilcore noted, the city’s 10-year waste plan is behind schedule, slowed in part by the pandemic. The expansion would “buy the city time.”

The dispute is not likely at an end. Waste Management has the option to file suit challenging the board’s decision.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which as been criticized by local communities for siding with landfill owners, could overrule the board’s decision.

On a separate track, Metro Councilman Jonathan Hall has pledged to bring legislation that would reject the expansion.

But that decision could, too, be subject to a challenge by both the courts and state environmental regulators.

The landfill currently has two to three years of life left before it reaches capacity.

Read more: Elected officials add voices to debate over landfill in Black neighborhood