A neighborhood advocacy group alleges that building a new city landfill off Highway 84 could put Lake Waco at risk. But city officials say those claims don’t hold water.

Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill claimed in a press release this week it “uncovered” the existence of a flowage easement for Lake Waco that extends into a corner of the 270-acre site the city is studying for a landfill.

The easement is a federally designated no-build zone meant to protect Lake Waco in case of extreme floods. Together with a federal 100-year floodplain zone on the east side of the landfill, the opponents say, the easement would make the site unsuitable for a landfill.

“Placing a solid waste landfill in the … easement violates (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) standards and would absolutely threaten our drinking water during any flood,” group chairman Brad Holland stated in the press release.

The news release was posted on the group’s Facebook page, which has 363 followers, and was the subject of local TV newscasts.

But city officials say nothing in the news release is news to them.

Aware of floodplain

Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem said city officials were aware of floodplain and flowage easements as they assembled the property in the past decade. If the Waco City Council chooses to build a landfill there, the city would build around the affected areas, Stem said.

“I don’t even consider it an obstacle,” he said. “It’s just one of dozens of things we have to address. … We’ll have to address the floodplain issue anywhere we build a landfill.”

As shown in a map the advocacy group published, the floodplain also crosses into the tract the existing landfill sits on.

Holland stood by his statements, saying he still believes the whole site would face regulatory challenges even if small parts were in the floodplain or flowage easements. Even if the landfill cells are not directly over those areas, tainted water could leach into the flood-prone areas and reach the lake in case of a flood, he contended.

“This is indisputable proof that this location is critically close to our drinking water reservoir,” he said. “The leachate in no way is going to stay directly within those boundaries. … It shows how poorly vetted this site is and the lack of due diligence with which they selected the site.”

The council a year ago hired SCS Engineers to do an in-depth study of the 270-acre site, which is next to the existing landfill and would be accessed from Old Lorena Road. Facing organized resistance from the upscale subdivisions of the Highway 84 corridor, the council in March widened the study to consider the feasibility of other sites.

SCS has identified an alternative site within 15 miles of Waco. City staff said it would be more expensive to develop and operate than the first proposed site and could increase solid waste bills by 33 percent, but the council urged more exploration of the site.

Citizens against the Highway 84 Landfill has mounted a well-organized opposition campaign and won the backing of groups such as the Waco Association of Realtors and Midway Independent School District board. Group officials argue that smells, traffic and environmental liability of the new landfill would compromise their quality of life and property values for decades to come.

City of Waco officials say they need to make a decision on the landfill siting this year to be able to meet permitting and construction requirements before the existing landfill fills up in about seven years.

Basic questions

Stem, a veteran city official who helped negotiate the expansion of Lake Waco in 2003, said the group’s press release implies that the city neglected to ask basic questions about the landfill’s environmental impact.

Stem noted that the city spent millions of dollars to provide the Highway 84 corridor with sewer lines to protect the lake from septic tank pollution.

“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to negatively affect Lake Waco,” he said. “We’re not about to jeopardize the future of our city by jeopardizing Lake Waco. It disturbs me that people would think that through incompetence or whatever we’d be that irresponsible.”