A seemingly routine newspaper photo shoot from more than a year ago has become ammunition in the ongoing battle against a possible landfill at Old Lorena Road.
An Aug. 19, 2016, email that landfill opponents acquired through an open records request indicates that landfill officials denied access for photos at the landfill because of concerns that they would show regulatory noncompliance.
“My concern is that with the rain the place looks terrible and some pictures could show the operation not in compliance and those would be the pix (sic) he prints for the world to see,” landfill manager David Rydl wrote to public works director Chuck Dowdell on the day before the Tribune-Herald’s first article on the proposed Old Lorena Road landfill site, just off U.S. Highway 84.
“He wanted to go everywhere and especially up on top of the cells and view neighbor’s property views,” Rydl continued in the email, referring to a Tribune-Herald reporter. “After I explained to him how extremely wet and the fact that the roads are not hard surfaced beyond the entrance, he was content in taking pix of traffic coming in/out from the scale areas.”
Jennifer Kampermann, social media administrator for the “Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill” group, said she posted the letter to Facebook on Tuesday because it raises questions about transparency in the current landfill’s operation.
“My concern is: what did it look like that they so were worried about in not giving you full access?” she said by phone Tuesday. “What was it they didn’t want you to see? What else do we not know? … It bothered me that a journalist wouldn’t have full access to the landfill.”
In an interview Tuesday, Rydl said he doesn’t believe the landfill was actually out of compliance with state regulations on the day in question. He said that after a 2-inch rain that week, he was concerned about the appearance of violating state rules against having standing water at the landfill.
“When it’s raining that much, you get a lot of ruts at the landfill,” he said. “If you were to take pictures immediately after the rain, you might say, ‘Wow, that looks like it’s out of compliance.’ ”
He said such ruts are filled in quickly once the mud dries up, and state regulators normally wouldn’t cite a landfill for standing water in such a situation.
Rydl said the muddy roads did, in fact, make it impractical to give a tour that week.
“It was actually too wet,” he said. “There are some areas where after two inches you couldn’t get to with a four-wheel drive.”
Rydl and other city officials gave a full tour of the Waco Regional Landfill and the adjacent property to Tribune-Herald staff on Aug. 31 of this year.
City solid waste director Anna Dunbar said tour groups, including college classes, tour the landfill regularly, and landfill officials know that state regulators could drop by at any time.
She said city officials make sure the landfill is in compliance with state laws even when it looks ugly.
“Sometimes people think if it looks messy, that means its poorly operated,” she said. “Landfills are a mess during rainfall.”