landfill

City staffers and consultants say a city-owned site along Old Lorena Road near U.S. Highway 84 is well-suited for a new landfill based on a range of criteria.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

The Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill Facebook page is encouraging folks to send an email to the mayor about the proposed Highway 84 landfill. Here’s mine:

Hello Mayor,

So, it turns out we need a new landfill. Where should we put it? It is my understanding that you and the rest of the City Council are reviewing two or three sites in addition to the controversial site proposed along U.S. Highway 84. Fingers crossed, one of them will turn out to be the perfect spot and this contentious dilemma will be resolved peacefully.

Just in case that doesn’t happen, I know you have been hearing quite a bit from Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill and I want you to know theirs is not the only point of view.

The “Citizens Against” group argues the proposed Highway 84 landfill location puts us at significant risk of contaminating the water supply, creating mosquito-borne illnesses and spawning bird trouble at the McGregor airport among other environmental hazards. The city staff and consultants, on the other hand, claim there’s virtually no risk of those calamities coming to pass. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle but, if I have to pick, I lean toward confidence in city staff. After all, they drink the same water we do.

I also trust them to have the expertise and the desire to keep it clean. Plus, in the unlikely case our city staff did turn out to be a bunch of bums who don’t care about the environment, I have confidence in the regulatory agencies that keep an eye on landfills and water supplies, etc. I imagine the chance the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would allow us to put a landfill in a place that poses dangerous risks is pretty low.

Another concern “Citizens Against” has raised is that locating the landfill on Highway 84 will cause property values in the area to drop, thus depleting our city’s tax base. As I understand it, the current landfill will be closed, covered over with grass and turned into a soccer field or park or some similar green space. This means even if we build the new landfill on an adjacent site, there will still be only one landfill in the area, just as now. The smell, the looks, the traffic, etc., would all be basically the same as now. I don’t see why property values would go down just because we swap one landfill for another.

On a related note, I took a tour of the landfill the other day and rode around inside its gates for 45 minutes with the truck windows rolled down. I didn’t detect much of any smell, even right next to the spot where garbage was being unloaded. That doesn’t mean it never smells. I’m sure it does smell sometimes. I just doubt living in the vicinity of the landfill is as terrible as reading the Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill Facebook page might lead one to believe. Annoying sometimes? I don’t doubt it. Terrible burden? I doubt it.

I do think “Citizens Against” has a legitimate point when it comes to fairness. Even though I suspect they may exaggerate the dangers and inconveniences of living near the landfill, I imagine there are some inconveniences and they have put up with them for a long time. I can see why they would think it’s not fair to ask them to live with the new landfill when they have already “done their time” living with the old one.

They have pointed out that the Waco City Council signed an agreement in 1992 stating that the current landfill would not be expanded. I understand the city’s legal argument that the new landfill site is technically not an “expansion.” But I also understand that the feeling of being treated fairly is not always about legality. Building a new landfill right next to the site of the old one might feel like a broken promise to me if I were them. I can see how that would make me angry.

Does this claim on fairness outweigh cost considerations? Does it outweigh the geological advantages of the Highway 84 site? That’s a tough question.

I wish we lived in a world where we could treat everyone fairly all the time, but we do not. Is it fair to ask a person with very little income to pay more for solid waste services so a wealthier person doesn’t have to be inconvenienced by the landfill? Is it fair to ask a well-off person, whose taxes already subsidize city services for many with lower incomes, to continue to put up with the annoyances of living next to the landfill, especially when one has already done so for decades?

What seems fair for one group of citizens often creates unfairness for another group. The best we can do sometimes is try to balance out the competing considerations with a compromise and, of course, that leaves everyone unhappy about something. Meanwhile, we all keep making trash.

Fairness, cost, health, safety, state and federal regulations, the environment, hopes for the future of the city… all are important considerations and they don’t always align perfectly with one another. I’m sure I won’t always agree with how you and the City Council fit the pieces together, but I do always appreciate your taking on that work. I never doubt your desire to make our community a better place to live for everyone who lives here. Thank you.

A university administrator, Ashley Bean Thornton has been involved in efforts with local businesses to provide foundational employment as part of Prosper Waco’s broader mission. She is manager of actlocallywaco.org, which champions civic improvement and job opportunities.