Appeals court rules against Waste Management, Inc. in Nashville landfill expansion

A ruling in the ongoing dispute over a landfill in a predominantly Black community is dealt a potentially fatal blow

By: - September 1, 2023 6:00 am
A Nashville landfill, not operated by BFI. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A landfill in Nashville (Photo: John Partipilo)

A publicly-traded company’s bid to expand its landfill in a historically Black Nashville neighborhood has suffered another — and perhaps fatal — legal setback.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s decision to deny the proposed expansion of the Southern Service Landfill in the Bordeaux neighborhood.  The landfill’s corporate owner is Waste Management, Inc. the nation’s No. 1 trash and recycling operator, which runs local operations through its subsidiary, Waste Management of Tennessee.

Its 77-acre Nashville location accepts only demolition and construction debris. In seeking to expand the operation by 17 acres, the company said it was unexpectedly reaching capacity after an influx of debris from a 2020 Nashville tornado and the closure of the city’s only other construction waste landfill in 2020.

Neighbors for years have complained of noxious odors and lobbed criticisms of environmental racism in the community northwest of downtown that has been home to generations of Black residents. In 2021 the Davidson County Solid Waste Region Board denied the company’s expansion request for being at odds with a master plan calling for zero waste to be diverted to landfills over the next thirty years — a decision that a Davidson County Chancery Court judge upheld last year.

In its decision this week, the Court of Appeals dismissed claims by Waste Management that the Solid Waste Board had followed improper procedures in denying its expansion plan — and was unpersuaded by the company’s argument that the 2019 master plan outlining the future of solid waste disposal by Nashville residents is unworkable and unrealistic.

While battles loom over landfills, Middle Tennessee hurtles toward a trash crisis 

“It is not our duty to flex or modify the plan, and we may not substitute our judgement for that of the Region Board,” the court said, noting the disputes over the viability of zero waste in 30 years was irrelevant to the decision of whether the Solid Waste Region Board correctly rejected the expansion.

The dispute is among several ongoing fights over landfills in Middle Tennessee, where rapidly growing populations have pushed existing landfills to near capacity while local governments have lagged in aggressively pursuing alternatives, including recycling and composting.

Last week, a years-long dispute over the future of Middle Point Landfill landed in a Nashville courtroom, where lawyers for the Murfreesboro mega-dump appealed a separate regional board’s decision to deny its expansion plans. The Murfreesboro landfill has drawn odor and pollution complaints from residents, environmentalists and local elected officials. Nearing capacity, the 207-acre landfill — whose corporate owner is Republic Services, the nation’s No. 2 landfill corporation — has been fighting for the ability to add another 99 acres of waste disposal capacity.

In May, a Louisiana company filed suit against the Marshall/Maury County Municipal Solid Waste Planning Region Board, which rejected plans to expand a defunct landfill on Superfund site adjacent to the Duck River. The site formerly belonged to the Monsanto Chemical Company, whose manufacture and disposal of contaminated waste materials — including from the manufacture of chemical war agents — led to the federal Superfund designations. The suit by Trinity Business Group is still ongoing in Davidson County Chancery Court.

Southern Services stopped accepting small loads of construction wast  last year. Waste Management then announced it would build a new recycling facility for the debris at its site in September.

A statement from Waste Management Thursday said company officials “are in the process of reviewing the decision and do not have any information to provide at this time.”

Waste management

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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.