Louisiana company renews fight to build landfills on rural Maury County Superfund site
A locked gate keeps trespassers out of the former Monsanto plant property in Maury County, which Trinity Business Group proposes developing for a regional waste center. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A high-stakes battle over a private company’s efforts to bring a large-scale trash disposal complex to a federally-designated Superfund site along the Duck River is heading into yet another round.
Louisiana-based Trinity Business Group first filed an application with the state in June for their proposed 1,300 acre waste complex in Maury County. The company used a permit process that required no immediate public notice, and their plans escaped attention for months.
After an alert local resident noticed activity at the site and discovered the plans, county leaders sprang into action. The 5,000-acre property is the former home of the Monsanto Chemical Company, which mined phosphorus, manufactured fertilizer and, for a time, chemical warfare agents that has since received federal designation as a Superfund site due to hazardous materials lurking under the soil.
The Maury County Commission enacted new zoning rules that limit all industrial activity within 1,000 feet of the Duck River. They also enacted the “Jackson Law,” a proactive measure Tennessee local governments may adopt to exert local control over any new or expanding landfills. Nearby, officials in the city of Columbia reviewed their own records, finding their own Jackson law applied to the rural property.
Local residents thought the fight was over, but Trinity Business Group isn’t done.
The company is now claiming that neither county zoning laws nor local Jackson Laws apply to a new, and even larger, plan to install landfills on the rural property, according to a January letter to the county’s solid waste board that – like their original plan – wasn’t made public for months.
“We didn’t know about this until a week ago,” said Gale Moore, a longtime Maury County resident who is among those organizing opposition to the proposal. “It’s scaring us to death. The fact that Trinity believes they can disregard all the rules and regulations is, honestly, making us all crazy.”
The company, which did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, now proposes to build two landfills on the property – one for household trash and a second for construction and demolition waste. Their plan also calls for accepting compost waste, metal salvage, old tires and other waste operations — along with a solar farm.
The company describes plans for the so-called Star Hill Eco Park operation at the former Monsanto property as the ideal location at the perfect time.
“All of Middle Tennessee, including the Maury/Marshall Region, is on the verge of a waste disposal crisis due to facility closures that have either occurred or are soon to occur,” the company’s proposal says.
“The Star Hill Eco Park represents the perfect opportunity and timing to address the looming [landfill] crisis in the Marshall/Maury Region and in Middle Tennessee.”
Trinity’s new proposal argues that the property is exempt from local control the Jackson Law imposes because it has long contained a small landfill. The Jackson Law applies to new landfills, new classes of landfills and landfill expansions.
And it argues that the property is exempt from the new local zoning rules keeping operations away from the Duck River because the state’s Non-Conforming Property Act that protects ongoing industrial operations from being subject to new local rules.
The company’s letter also reminds the Marshall/Maury County Municipal Solid Waste Planning Region Board that it only has the authority to deny the plan if it is inconsistent with a master solid waste planning document. The company argues that its plan is consistent, citing the need outlined in the master plan for future waste disposal options for county residents.
The protracted dispute comes amidst ongoing questions in counties across Middle Tennessee about what to do with trash going forward. A battle in Rutherford County over Middle Point Landfill, which accepts household trash from a third of Tennessee’s 95 counties, leaves uncertain where cities and counties will send their household trash in the future. A separate dispute between operators of Southern Services Landfill in north Nashville and city leaders has limited the destinations for construction debris.
For local residents, who rely on the Duck River for drinking water, agriculture and recreation, the efforts to establish a 1,600 acre waste site in rural Maury County has raised environmental concerns.
“I don’t want 38 counties worth of trash being trucked into Maury County to a Superfund site next to the Duck River,” said Stephanie Sparks-Newland, a public school teacher who has lived in Maury County for three decades. “I get it. They see where the gold is and it’s garbage, but we just don’t want to be poisoned.”
Meanwhile a bill in the Tennessee Legislature would designate the stretch of the Duck River that includes along the Monsanto property a Class II scenic river, a state designation that includes prohibitions of certain developments along its banks. Among them is a landfill.
Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, said the effort had nothing to do with any proposed plans along the river, but would simply extend the “scenic” designation already in place along parts of the Duck even further.
“That’s my intent with this bill, to protect water for future generations,” he said.
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