A regional board, meeting in Murfreesboro on Friday evening, rejected plans to expand a household waste landfill in Rutherford County — a decision with far-reaching consequences for surrounding counties that rely on the Middle Point facility to take in residents’ trash.
The landfill is the only facility in Middle Tennessee that takes in household garbage. Located in Rutherford County, its trash is trucked in from 34 counties, among them rapidly growing population centers in Nashville and in Wilson, Cheatham and Williamson Counties.
The unanimous rejection of expansion plans sought by landfill-owners Republic Services came after months of contentious public meetings and increasingly soured discussions between company representatives and county officials.
Republic Services had hoped to expand the 207-acre dump by nearly 100 additional acres, extending its lifespan. Without an expansion, operators have said it will reach capacity within 10 years, leaving nearly a third of the state without a landfill destination for trash.
The vote rejecting the expansion was met with sustained applause from local residents who had gathered in a local courthouse meeting room. Residents have long complained of foul odors and environmentalists have expressed concern about the landfill’s proximity to the Stones River.
The Central Tennessee Solid Waste Planning Board sets policy for for garbage, recycling and other disposal policies in Rutherford, Cannon, Coffee and Warren Counties.
In a detailed set of resolutions crafted with future litigation in mind, the board on Friday cited a “current documented and recurring history” of environmental violations, including exposed solid waste, leachate — or liquid runoff — escaping from the trash mound, and inadequate erosion control at the site.
“Not only are there environmental concerns,” said board member Donna Barrett. An expansion would be “financially and socially inconsistent” with a master plan developed by the board to create more sustainable waste disposal policies going forward.
Mac Nolen, the board’s chair, warned Friday that the board’s decision would not be the final say on the landfill’s future.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, or TDEC, which is responsible for issuing permits for landfill expansions, can overrule the board if it determines their decision was “arbitrary” or “capricious.”
If TDEC also rejects the expansion plans, Republic Services has the right to file suit in Davidson County Chancery Court.
“This is not over,” Nolen said. “It’s going to take awhile.”
A similar landfill dispute in Nashville — over the expansion of Southern Services landfill in the Bordeaux neighborhood, owned by Waste Management — is currently in Davidson County Chancery Court after a separate solid waste board rejected plans to expand its footprint. That landfill takes in only construction and demolition waste.
The rejection of landfill expansions, while popular among neighboring residents, leave counties and cities in Middle Tennessee with a larger and more politically fraught problem: finding ways to get their residents to recycle, compost and embrace other — and potentially costlier — forms of waste disposal.
Photo credit: John Partipillo
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