Nashville judge issues setback to Middle Point landfill expansion plans

By: - December 22, 2021 5:00 am
Southern Services Landfill in Nashville's Bordeaux community. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Southern Services Landfill in Nashville’s Bordeaux community. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A Nashville judge issued an unusual setback to controversial plans to expand a landfill in Rutherford County that serves as the final destination for household trash from 34 Tennessee counties, among them rapidly growing population centers in and around Nashville.

Chancery Court Judge Russell Perkins on Monday ordered the dispute over Middle Point Landfill in Murfreesboro be sent back to the Central Solid Waste Planning Board – an oversight body that unanimously rejected an application to expand the landfill in July.

The board will have to consider whether new evidence — including recent resident complaints and state environmental records — should be factored into deciding on a possible expansion, Perkins’ order said.

The board has not yet set a meeting date for that review.

The landfill is operated by BFI Waste Systems of Tennessee, owned by the Phoenix-based Republic Services, a publicly-traded corporation that is one of the nation’s biggest landfill operators. Republic Services is seeking to expand the existing 207-acre Murfreesboro dump by nearly 100 acres, prolonging its estimated 7 years of remaining life by upwards of 25 more years. Without an expansion, operators said it will reach capacity, leaving nearly a third of the state without a destination for trash.

Attorneys for BFI and the city of Murfreesboro did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Perkins’ order comes after the city of Murfreesboro intervened in the lawsuit, originally filed against the solid waste board by BFI in August.

In a flurry of documents and affidavits filed in early December, Murfreesboro officials cited hundreds of complaints that have poured into a recently created city-run “odor reporting portal” about the landfill, including reports of acrid odors that continue to emanate from the site.

The city also cited its own investigation into state environmental records that show the landfill accepted large amounts of industrial waste containing aluminum dross in addition to the household trash routinely trucked into the site.  The city alleges that the amount of aluminum waste, or aluminum dross — a byproduct in the aluminum industry – is significant, that its presence in the dump contributes to noxious odors and potentially dangerous consequences and that Republic Services “has long been aware of the effects of this waste in terms of atypical gasses, odors and leachate (the runoff from landfills).”

An affidavit included in the city’s filing from a former BFI employee in an unrelated 2007 lawsuit noted that the aluminum waste can create a chain reaction that generates heat and toxic, flammable gases that can lead to chemical fires and “potentially disastrous environmental consequences.” That reaction occurred at Republic Services-owned Countrywide Landfill in Ohio, the affidavit from the employee, Rich Thompson, said.

Even without fires, leachate from landfills accepting industrial waste can be toxic.

Attorneys for Murfreesboro noted the city, under its agreement with landfill operators, will continue to bear the responsibility for treating the leachate for not only the life of the landfill but in the years beyond.  Leachate can continue to leak from landfills long after they are shut down.

 

Clarification: Murfreesboro officials cited the presence of aluminum dross, specifically, in industrial waste deposited in the Middle Point landfill as a cause for concern. A previous version of this story stated the concern more broadly related to all industrial waste, which is not the case.

 

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

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