Bill would require local officials’ approval for aging landfill expansions

By: - February 2, 2022 6:15 am
Southern Services Landfill in Nashville's Bordeaux community. (Photo: John Partipilo)

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

Local mayors and legislative bodies would get a say in whether aging landfills are allowed to expand under a bill introduced by a pair of Republican lawmakers who represent parts of Rutherford County, where a dispute over widening the Middle Point landfill continues.

The bill by Rep. Bryan Terry and Sen. Dawn White would require owners of landfills in existence before 1989 to get a letter of support from both the county mayor — or county legislative body — and the mayor of each city located within a mile of the landfill, in submitting their application to expand.

Rep. Bryan Terry (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

The bill emerged from an ongoing dispute over the future of Middle Point Landfill in Murfreesboro. The landfill is near capacity and its local owners, BFI Waste Systems of Tennessee and Republic Services, are seeking to expand its existing 207-acres by nearly 100 more, prolonging its estimated seven years of life by upwards of 25 years. The landfill takes in trash from 34 counties. Neighbors and local officials have opposed the expansion, citing odors, environmental impacts and quality of life concerns.

Both Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland and Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron support the bill, Terry told lawmakers on am Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee Tuesday.

The bill would amend the 1989 Jackson Law, a measure that requires approval by local government for any new landfill — or expansion of an existing landfill built after 1989, as long as the local government has first voted to opt into the Jackson Law rules.  The law, however, grandfathered out 17 landfills — including Middle Point — that existed before 1989.

The bill would provide local officials a “seat at the table for any expansion so when landfills are making a generational decision, these locals would have a say” in any expansion plans for the 17 landfills, Terry said.

The bill was temporarily shelved Tuesday after some lawmakers expressed concern that it ran contrary to the intent of lawmakers who first enacted the Jackson Law.  Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, said he was also concerned an uneven balance of power: “It’s kind of like a trump card. Literally one signature could hold this up,” he said, referring to a single mayor or county commission who might decline to provide a letter of support even if state environmental officials or others approved of an expansion.

Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland sits with his face in his hands at a contentious meeting to discuss the Middle Point landfill in Murfreesboro. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland sits with his face in his hands at a meeting in May to discuss the Middle Point landfill in Murfreesboro. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Terry said he would put the bill on hold temporarily while working to provide lawmakers more information.

A plan to expand Middle Point Landfill remains hotly debated in Rutherford County. The Central Tennessee Regional Solid Waste Planning Board, which already voted once to deny Middle Point’s expansion request, meets next Tuesday to consider possible new evidence to submit in an ongoing lawsuit the landfill owner has filed contesting the denial of its plans to expand.

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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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