Dispute over Murfreesboro’s Middle Point Landfill goes to court

By: - August 25, 2023 6:00 am
Southern Services Landfill in Nashville's Bordeaux community. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A Nashville landfill, typical of Middle Tennessee landfills. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A years-long dispute over the future of Middle Point Landfill landed in a Nashville courtroom on Thursday, where lawyers for the Murfreesboro mega-dump are appealing a regional board’s decision to deny its expansion plans.

The fate of the landfill has implications far beyond Rutherford County. The 207-acre site currently accepts trash from one-third of all Tennessee counties.  Without a 99-acre expansion, BFI Waste Systems of Tennessee has said the landfill will be forced to close in several years, leaving Middle Tennessee without a trash destination.

William Beck, BFI’s attorney, argued the Central Solid Waste Planning Board failed to follow its own rules in rejecting the landfill’s expansion plans. He also suggested the board was wrongly influenced by community uproar. Local residents have been vocal in their opposition to the expansion plans; some have complained of foul odors and health problems.

“The case is important beyond the parties because, if every region board can do the politically popular thing, Tennessee won’t have the landfills it needs,” Beck said.

“Middle Point is the last Class I landfill in the region,” he said. “And the need for a landfill isn’t going away.”

Middle Point operators say city, county the source of toxins found at landfill, not them

Under the planning board’s rules, landfill expansion requests may only be rejected if they are incompatible with a long-term regional waste plan.

Any proposal for a new landfill or expansion of an existing landfill may be approved if its location is suitable, its added volume is necessary and its services are cost-effective.

John Rodgers, an attorney representing the region’s planning board, said the board had weighed all those criteria and concluded that the expansion wasn’t in the best interests of the four-county region governed by the board.

The expansion, he noted, would accommodate the trash from more than 30 other counties; local governments could face higher costs, since they are responsible for processing leachate — or liquid waste — from the landfill. Leachate volume will only increase if the landfill expands, he said.

Lisa Helton, an attorney representing Murfreesboro, said the region’s planning board also took into consideration odor complaints and BFI’s acceptance of toxic aluminum waste.

The city of Murfreesboro is embroiled in a second federal lawsuit against BFI, alleging the aluminum waste is contributing to pollution affecting local waterways.

The expansion plan is “not environmentally acceptable, cost-effective or necessary for the region,” she said. Helton noted the city has been planning for years for other alternatives for the city’s trash.

Landfill operators are asking for Chancellor Russell Perkins to overturn the planning board’s rejection.  Perkins said Thursday he expected to issue a ruling in two to three weeks.

If the planning board’s decision is overturned, Beck noted that the public would continue to have input in a three-year Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation approval process.

BFI is a subsidiary of Republic Services, the nation’s No. 2 provider of trash services.

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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.