The Waco City Council on Tuesday postponed a much-anticipated vote on building a new landfill at Old Lorena Road, with members telling an overflow crowd they needed to do a little more homework.
After hearing pleas from more than 20 residents of the Highway 84 corridor to take the site out of contention, Mayor Kyle Deaver said the time wasn’t yet right for a vote.
“As much as I hate to say it, I think we need to delay this vote until we have more discussion and do a little more work,” he said after more than an hour of public comment that drew about 250 people. “I want to thank everyone who came here for being respectful and presenting a compelling story. … I certainly do not agree with everything said tonight, but I do appreciate a lot of the concerns.”
City staffers had recommended the 292-acre Old Lorena Road site the city owns next the current Waco Regional Landfill, saying it’s the most efficient and cost-effective option. City officials say time is running short for picking a site and starting a permitting and construction process that could take seven years. But council members on Tuesday were still debating the details of a financial analysis of the Old Lorena Road site and three others.
Sam Brown, president of the Twin Rivers Neighborhood Association, said he was encouraged by the delay.
“I think it shows a concern on the part of the council that this site is not the best for Waco, and that they need additional information,” Brown said. “It’s the most optimistic I’ve been since this whole thing started. I think they’re interested in objectively studying this. I hope they find a site that is not a threat to water, neighborhoods, airports and tax base, and that doesn’t render the word of the city worthless.”
Brown was referring to a 1992 legal agreement with immediate neighbors of the Waco Regional Landfill, in which the city pledged not to expand that landfill. City officials say that they are, in fact, planning to close that landfill as promised but are not prevented from permitting and opening a new landfill next door. The neighbors, led by Wanda Glaze, are battling over that issue in court.
At the council meeting Tuesday, neighbors hammered that issue.
Lisa Leutwyler Stewart, whose family has lived near the landfill for decades, said officials were considering using a technicality to get out of a promise to neighbors.
“I want you to think about it personally,” she said. “It’s your personal integrity. If you’re willing to sacrifice your integrity by going back on the city’s words through wordsmithing or other deceitful ways, in 20 years when Lake Waco is polluted in a way that can’t be cleaned up, it’s going to be your names in the record book.”
The council heard Tom Pagel, a Midway Independent School District board vice-chairman, who said siting the landfill in the fast-growing Highway 84 corridor would hurt the school district’s revenue and enrollment growth.
Stephen Zielinski, a surgeon, argued that the vultures the landfill would attract would endanger those who fly out of McGregor Executive Airport, including him. He also objected to the placement of a landfill just upstream of Lake Waco.
“Putting a dump right in the headwaters of Lake Waco, the source of our drinking water, does not make sense,” Zielinski said. “As a physician, I can tell you, polluting your drinking water is not a good idea.”
Brad Holland, a Twin Rivers resident and chairman of the nearly 2,000-strong advocacy group Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill, agreed that the site would be a water contamination threat.
“I’m telling every one of you, the risks to public health are real and cannot be ignored,” he said.
In an afternoon work session, Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem assured the council that the city is capable of protecting the South Bosque watershed from contamination from the existing landfill and proposed landfill.
He said state environmental testing consistently shows “high aquatic life” in the South Bosque downstream of Waco Regional Landfill.
“If we had any water-quality impact, we would know,” he said.
The council’s afternoon work session mostly focused on the minutiae of a study by NewGen Strategies showing the financial impact of the four potential sites.
NewGen consultant David Yanke said the Old Lorena Road site would save money in development costs as well as ongoing transportation costs. The other three sites, as yet unidentified but all on the south side of Waco, would require adding new garbage routes and extend distances, Yanke said. That means a shorter lifespan for trucks and longer operational hours.
Compared to the existing landfill, the Old Lorena Road site would increase monthly residential rates by 30 cents, while others ranged from $1.29 to $3.58.
Councilman Jim Holmes disputed the assumptions of the study, including a decision to base route lengths on distance from the intersection of State Highway 6 and Highway 84.
Councilman Dillon Meek said he thought the study was sound, but he was weighing the significance of the residential rate changes. He said he wouldn’t minimize the importance of a $3 rate increase, but he said some residents he’s spoken to seem willing to accept it.
But Councilwoman Alice Rodriguez said her South Waco constituents would be upset by such an increase, based on her experience a few years ago, when rates went up 25 cents.
“A lot of folks think $3 is a big difference in their monthly bill,” she said. “When I have people coming to my house knocking on my door, I’m very cognizant of that.”