“Not in my backyard,” or NIMBY, is a common sentiment associated with landfills, but Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown, Alabama, is breaking that stereotype by listening to its neighbors’ concerns and giving back to the local community. One reason for that may be Mike Smith. Not only has he been involved with providing legal counsel for the landfill since its inception in 2006, his wife’s family owns about 3,000 acres of land next door to the landfill.
“Talk about something being in your backyard; our cattle can reach across the fence,” he says. Smith, who practices law in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and spends many of his weekends at the farm, has a vested interest in the environmentally sound operation of the landfill and has been actively involved in assuring that since day one. And while ownership has changed hands over the years, Smith continues to be an integral part of the Arrowhead Landfill, handling litigation, permitting and just about anything that befalls the 1,200-acre site in rural Alabama. He says staying on the inside ensures that what the owners say they are doing is true.
The landfill has 400 acres that are considered appropriate for waste disposal. “That gives us a very large capacity in terms of the air space,” says Smith. About 30 acres of that has been developed. The great bulk of the waste in the landfill is from what Smith calls “the Kingston release.”
The event Smith mentions occurred Dec. 22, 2008, when an ash dike ruptured at an 84-acre solid waste containment area at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tennessee. The rupture released more than 5 million tons of coal ash slurry. Smith says it was one of the biggest environmental releases that has ever occurred in the U.S. When the impoundment failed, most of the material released went into the Emory River and made its way into backwater areas, and some even covered dry ground, says Smith.
Cleanup from this environmental disaster was divided into phases. Phase I was “time critical,” and Phases II and III were “nontime critical.” The first phase relied on Arrowhead as a disposal site. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Phase I involved mechanical excavation, hydraulic dredging, rapid materials handling and disposal of 3.5 million cubic yards of ash from the Emory River to alleviate upstream flooding concerns and to mitigate further downstream transport.
Ash removed from the river was dewatered on-site and loaded onto rail cars for disposal at the approved Arrowhead Landfill. Over the course of about 16 months, from July 2009 to December 2010, a little more than 4 million tons of material from the spill were shipped by rail to the landfill. During that period, on average one train with between 80 to 110 cars on it would deliver 8,000 to 15,000 tons to the rail yard at Arrowhead Landfill.
The 300-acre rail yard is permitted as a transfer station, which allows the landfill to bring in waste from out of state. In addition to waste from Kingston, the rail yard also has received construction and demolition (C&D) debris from New Jersey and Maine and is permitted to take waste from 33 states. “The advantage of the rail yard is we have over 4 miles of track with enough room to accommodate three 100-car trains on the track at one time,” says Smith.
Today, though, most of the waste comes in via truck from within the state of Alabama. “Any time you are less than 100 to 200 miles away, it makes more sense to ship by truck than by rail,” says Smith.
In an ideal situation, Smith says the landfill would operate most efficiently if it received a combination of municipal solid waste (MSW) by truck and commercial waste and C&D by rail.
Any special waste that comes to the landfill must be sampled and determined to be nonhazardous by the state. The state will provide a letter deeming it an approved waste stream. One example of such a waste stream is carpet remnants from the manufacturing process used by a supplier to the Mercedes Benz assembly facility in Tuscaloosa County.
The landfill uses Caterpillar dozers and compactors in the landfill disposal cell, and a Volvo A40 dump truck and track hoe are used to excavate and transport stored clay material used as daily landfill cover. Two water trucks keep the facility’s roads wet down.
Arrowhead Landfill’s location is quite conducive to having a landfill on it, Smith says. It sits on Selma Chalk, one of the most impermeable naturally occurring clay formations in North America. The Selma Chalk provides a bonus layer of protection between the lined Subtitle D facility and the groundwater, making it “one of the most environmentally sound disposal facilities in the nation,” according to the landfill’s website.
At the time when Arrowhead was taking coal ash from the Kingston site, it employed around 65 skilled laborers. Smith says many of them learned to operate articulating dump trucks or other equipment.
Permitting for the landfill was completed in 2006. Perry County Associates LLC, an Atlanta-based company got the permit for the landfill and the property where it was located was sold to Perry Uniontown Ventures I LLC (PUV). PUV eventually went bankrupt after a failed business plan.
Green Group Holdings LLC, a Canton, Georgia-based environmental services firm, purchased the landfill in 2011 in a bankruptcy-court approved sale. Today, the landfill has six employees and takes in about 113 tons of MSW per day from Perry County where it is located, along with the surrounding Alabama counties of Marengo, Hale and Bibb. The landfill also has taken some municipal and commercial waste from Dallas, Greene and Wilcox counties in Alabama.
The landfill does not charge Perry County governments disposal fees, which has saved them more than $100,000 per year, according to Smith. The landfill has paid more than $10 million in state and local taxes for waste that has been disposed of there. Smith says, in addition, the landfill pays about $100,000 a year in property taxes on property that prior paid less than $3,000 per year in property taxes.
Under the current ownership, Green Group has to worked make improvements and be a good neighbor, according to Smith. “One of the things Green Group has done is try to do everything it can to be a good corporate citizen,” he says.
For example, a complaint Green Group was made aware of when it first took ownership of the landfill was that the people living near the site did not like garbage trucks traveling down their road. In response, the company closed that entrance gate and improved 3 miles of gravel road across its property. It requires all trucks containing waste or construction materials to enter and leave using that road, which does not pass any homes before connecting onto U.S. Highway 80.
Another area of concern from nearby residents was an area where stormwater was running off of the property. Smith says, “It was not coming from an industrial area, it was just an area where water had always come from.”
Though the area with the runoff was not in violation of regulations, Smith says Green Group decided to eliminate a source of controversy by redirecting the water into a sedimentation pond.
TAKING IT FURTHER
Those improvements to the site made a big difference to the residents nearby, but Green Group did not stop there. It has taken its good corporate citizenship to the community at large by providing school supplies for K-12 students in Perry County. The company took a program that began prior to it taking ownership and made it more effective by talking to teachers about specific items students in their grades needed, Smith says.
Green Group also purchases goods and services from local vendors when possible. “Green Group has averaged between $1 million and $1.4 million in local purchases annually, which is far and away the bulk of the purchases we make,” Smith says.
The company has helped the city of Uniontown purchase a new garbage truck, provided a sound system to the local high school gymnasium and provides meals to senior citizens during the holidays. It also cleaned up and helps maintain parks and a cemetery that were once neglected.
Smith says it is not just about giving money to local causes, it is “to actually come out and participate in the local community.”
Arrowhead Landfill Office Manager Michelle Coleman reads in local schools and maintains relationships with the organizations the landfill supports. She also is the first point of contact for landfill customers. Like Smith’s family, she, too, lives close to the landfill.
Smith, who has helped assure compliance with the landfill’s permit from the beginning, likes what he sees in Green Group. It also gives him peace of mind that the landfill is being managed well.
“They are committed to operating the landfill in an environmentally responsible way,” Smith says. “I feel fortunate to be able to work with them. All of [the prior owners] have been dedicated to permit compliance, and that has allowed me to go to my mother-in-law’s table and tell her everything is OK.”