Fight over landfill in historically Black Nashville neighborhood heads to court
Southern Services Landfill in Nashville’s Bordeaux community. (Photo: John Partipilo)
UPDATE: On Wednesday, after publication of this story, the court rescheduled the date for a hearing in the legal battle over expanding a Bordeaux landfill. The hearing, originally set for Thursday, Jan. 12, is now scheduled for Tuesday, March 1.
A dispute over the future of a landfill in the historically Black Bordeaux neighborhood of Nashville heads to court on March 1, the latest in a series of legal and political fights over the future of trash in Middle Tennessee as landfills reach their limits while recycling and other sustainability efforts lag behind.
Nashville’s Solid Waste Regional Board in March rejected a proposal to expand the Southern Services landfill, a 77-acre site in Bordeaux that accepts more than 90 percent of all construction waste generated in the rapidly developing city — and one that has drawn complaints of noxious odors and criticisms over environmental racism.
The 11-member board found that plans to add 17 acres to the landfill were inconsistent with the city’s long term master plan to make Nashville a “zero-waste” city by 2050. The plan defines “zero waste” as a goal of diverting 90% of all waste generated in Nashville away from landfills through composting, recycling and other mitigation measures. The board’s rejection was also based on community concerns about odors, health impacts and home resale values.
Houston-based Waste Management, which owns the landfill, appealed the board’s decision in May, claiming it was arbitrary and illegal.
The company argued that a pair of 2020 tragedies — devastating tornadoes and the Christmas Day bombing in downtown Nashville — generated so much debris it shortened the original lifespan of the landfill, events the master plan could not have anticipated. Also unforeseen was the closure of a separate construction debris landfill in Nashville, leaving Southern Services as the only option within 40 miles for the steady stream of debris generated by development.
The 2019 master plan guiding the city’s goals to gradually limit landfill deposits could not have anticipated these events, and the Southern Services landfill — and an adjacent recycling center it relies on to divert reusable waste — is necessary to fill in looming gaps as the city works towards its zero waste plan, the company argued.
The company has made other arguments as well. The Solid Waste Regional Board based its rejection in part over concerns about the health of community residents, home resale values and quality of life for nearby residents. Those findings were “not supported by any substantial and material evidence,” the company argued. It also alleges that the board failed to follow its own procedures in rejecting the expansion request.
“Despite Waste Management’s arguments otherwise, the record is replete with evidence that directly supports the Board’s decision to deny the expansion as inconsistent with the ‘Achieving Zero Waste’ plan,” attorneys for the board wrote in legal filings. The filings noted that “Waste Management had not attempted to come up with creative strategies to avoid the need for expanding the landfill, even though such strategies are encouraged in the plan.”
Both sides will present their arguments before Chancellor Anne Martin in Davidson County Chancery Court on Thursday.
An attorney for the Metro Legal department declined to make a statement this week, and lawyers for Waste Management did not respond to emailed questions.
The dispute is the latest in a series of skirmishes over the future of rapidly-filling landfills that take in much of the waste generated in fast growing communities in and around Nashville.
In Rutherford County, an ongoing fight over expansion plans for Middle Point landfill, owned by Phoenix-based Republic Services, has separately landed in court.
Middle Point Landfill in Murfreesboro takes in household trash from 34 Tennessee counties, including Nashville. A Central Solid Waste Planning Board in July rejected plans to expand the existing 207-acre landfill in Murfreesboro by an additional 100 acres. That dispute has also landed in court.
In December, Chancery Court Judge Russell Perkins ordered the dispute be sent back to the Central Solid Waste Board for a second review, after the city of Murfreesboro intervened. Murfreesboro officials presented new evidence of resident odor complaints and its own investigation into state environmental records. That investigation, Murfreesboro officials argued, shows the landfill accepted large amounts of industrial waste containing aluminum dross, a byproduct of the aluminum industry, that could contribute to noxious odors and potentially dangerous chemical reactions in the landfill.
Without an expansion, Middle Point has less than a decade before it reaches capacity. Southern Services has an estimated 2-3 years of life without an expansion.
Bordeaux, a historically Black neighborhood northwest of downtown Nashville, has for decades been the site of bruising battles over landfills. Residents and Black leaders have long complained the majority-minority neighborhood has served as a dumping ground for Nashville’s waste. Southern Services has been in operation for more than 30 years. A separate long-running Bordeaux landfill was ultimately closed in the 1980s after sustained public protests.
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