The landfill operated by Waste Management/Southern Services in northwest Davidson County. Neighbors in that community are waging a fight similar to one in Rutherford County. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Rutherford county residents on Monday evening blasted a plan to expand a regional landfill located in fast-growing Murfreesboro suburbs that serves as the final destination for trash from 27 surrounding counties.
Republic Services, operators of the Middle Point Landfill, have proposed expanding the controversial landfill by nearly 100 acres, lengthening its estimated 7 years of remaining life by upwards of 25 more years.
The expansion would be a win for Rutherford County residents, who do not have to pay for trash hauling under the city’s operating agreement, Mike Classen, the landfill’s general manager, told a packed audience at the Rutherford County courthouse during the meeting of the Tennessee Region Solid Waste Planning Board.
“It doesn’t get more cost effective than free,” Classen said.
His message was greeted with skepticism — and, at times, outright hostility — by more than a dozen local residents who stepped forward to take turns at the microphone to speak about odors that seeped into homes, layers of dust that covered patio furniture days after being wiped down, damaged roads from trash trucks and concern about the impact of air and water quality from the landfill, which sits adjacent to the source of the county’s water supply.
“There’s more at stake than saving money on how your garbage is disposed of,” said Peggy Davenport, who has been a resident since 1976. Davenport, who is battling breast cancer, said she was concerned about the health effects of the landfill that, in its early years, occupied a largely rural area that has since become one of the state’s fasted growing communities.
“The free thing doesn’t really bother me in comparison to quality of life and loving where I live,” said John Adams, who lives with his family about three miles away from the landfill. “The things like opening your windows going to sleep, waking up and your house smells terrible. It’s tough when you’ve got a lot invested in your house.”
Residents have fought operators of the landfill for years and the tenor of public comments turned sharply critical at times.
The expansion plans, which would keep Republic Services in operation in Murfreesboro profiting off tipping fees from other counties to collect trash, are “greedy, underhanded and only interested in using Rutherford County as their lucrative dumping ground,” said one resident.
“Y’all are crappy neighbors,” said another.
The task before the Region Solid Waste Board is to recommend to state regulators either for or against the landfill expansion. Under the board’s rules, they must meet for a second time before making the recommendation. Their next meeting is July 9.
The regional board has to decide whether the expansion plan aligns with a ten-year plan for disposing of waste in Rutherford and surrounding counties. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation can over-rule the board’s decision if it is found to be “arbitrary and capricious.”
The controversy in Murfreesboro echos an ongoing battle in nearby Nashville over the future of the Southern Services landfill in the Bordeaux neighborhood, which takes in construction and demolition debris. The Davidson County Solid Waste Region Board rejected plans by that landfill’s operators — Waste Management Inc — to expand, concluding the plan violated its own long term waste disposal plans. Waste Management has since filed suit in Davidson County Chancery Court against the board.
The controversy also highlights the urgency of a looming trash crisis in Middle Tennessee, which sends much of its household trash to Middle Point.
As a whole, the region lags behind other major metropolitan areas that have adopted more progressive approaches that favor more recycling, more composting and less of a reliance on loading up garbage trucks with trash and driving them to large dumps.
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