More than 300 neighbors who gathered in opposition to a proposed city landfill near West Highway 84 got a pledge of support from their councilman and an explanation and apology from city staff.

Councilman Jim Holmes won applause at a special meeting of the West Highway 84 Neighborhood Association in stating that he will advocate for an alternative site to the one proposed on Old Lorena Road.

“It’s not that I don’t want it going into this residential district,” Holmes said during the meeting at Harris Creek Baptist Church. “I don’t want it to go into any residential district — east, south, whatever — within three or four miles of any residential area.”

The city of Waco hired a firm in August to design and permit a 270-acre landfill site, adjacent to the existing Waco Regional Landfill. Holmes said the council will discuss the issue at a 3 p.m work session Tuesday, and at his request will vote later this month on whether to expand the study to consider other sites.

Residents in the fast-growing Highway 84 corridor have organized against the landfill proposal, saying it would pose a threat to Lake Waco water, add to existing smell issues and lower property values. They have also argued the plan would violate a 1992 agreement with neighbors in which the city said it would not “expand the 948-A beyond its current boundaries,” referring to the existing Waco Regional Landfill.

“My granddaddy used to say, don’t pee in my boots and tell me it’s raining,” said Brad Holland, a leader of the opposition. “That’s kind of what they’re doing. The semantics of whether it’s an expansion or it’s a new landfill means nothing to people in this room.”

Holland said more than 700 people have signed a petition against the landfill site.

City’s argument

The immediate neighbors in the 1992 agreement have sued the city of Waco, arguing that the city is effectively expanding the landfill. City Attorney Jennifer Richie disagreed, citing city council statements from 25 years ago suggesting that a new landfill might someday be built in the area.

“The city feels that the language is clear and unambiguous,” Richie said.

City Manager Dale Fisseler agreed in a question-and-answer session with residents, drawing jeers from the crowd. Fisseler also disputed the idea that the landfill would lower property values, saying that the existing landfill has not kept the area from booming during the last two decades.

Sam Brown, a board member of the Twin Rivers Homeowners Association, said the city’s credibility is at stake.

“I believe the citizenry of a city should not have to worry about their own government using loopholes to get out of agreements that they made,” Brown said. “They should not have to be careful of dangerous details like signing up for new cellphone service. We should be able to have confidence that the city is working for us and with us in good faith.”

Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem III responded to complaints that the landfill process hasn’t been transparent.

Stem said city staff met with the residents closest to the landfill site before the council voted for the study last summer. But he apologized for not meeting with the broader Highway 84 community, saying that was an oversight.

Stem assured residents that the landfill would not harm water quality, noting that he was instrumental in getting the lake raised and in protecting it from upstream dairies.

He said all runoff from the landfill is required to be captured and piped to the sewer plant for treatment.

“I can tell you I’m not the least bit interested in doing anything that will hurt Lake Waco,” Stem said. “We’ve had (pollution) challenges from along the South Bosque but not from the landfill. We are confident we can protect Lake Waco.”

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