landfill

Waco Regional Landfill and surrounding land, as seen from high above U.S. Highway 84. A section of Old Lorena Road is visible in the top right corner. The group Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill protests a city proposal to open a new landfill next to the current site along Old Lorena Road.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

Where to put a new landfill is possibly the most controversial issue the Waco City Council has faced in decades. The old landfill has somewhere between seven and nine years left and, given the time it takes to develop a new site, we’ve got to make a decision soon or buy some time. Unfortunately, the only decision placed before the City Council has come down to this: Put the “new” landfill at U.S. Highway 84 and Old Lorena Road or… well, no other options have been made public yet.

The lack of a viable alternative site is really a dilemma of the city’s making. Here’s what they are using as site criteria: It must be 15 miles or less from the city center (randomly and erroneously defined as the intersection of Texas Highway 6 and Highway 84); it must not be in the flood plain or on a fault line; and it must have the appropriate “hydrogeology” underneath it (like a good clay soil that won’t leach). While most of these criteria make sense, the 15-mile limit on the landfill proximity is artificial and arbitrarily imposed by our city. It’s this stipulation that is the key to the entire problem. The simple solution is that it’s time to think outside the proverbial (trash) box.

One of us can assure you that, as a medical doctor, when faced with a problem without an obvious solution, we use a concept called “best practice” analysis. That is, we look around at how others have solved similar challenges and choose the approach that seems to fit the circumstances and produce the most satisfying solution. We propose we do the same for the Waco landfill debacle and, when looking around, we need not look any further than… Hewitt.

That’s right, the small neighboring town of Hewitt is actually a growing, budget-conscious community and provides a great example of thinking outside the box. The city of Hewitt charges its residents $16.51 a month for trash services. For that price, they are able to ship most of their refuse 54 miles away to the remote outskirts of Itasca, where there is a very large private landfill in northern Hill County. (Less than 20 percent of their waste ends up in the Waco landfill.) The Itasca landfill is within our Heart of Texas Council of Governments region and is willing to accept Waco’s trash — with a remaining lifespan of 174 years (which means it won’t fill up till 2191 for those of you counting). Imagine how quickly we could solve our own problem simply by using this site, which would place Waco’s trash out of sight, out of mind and out of everyone’s backyard.

The city of Waco, on the other hand, is not looking farther out because we cannot figure out how to move trash more than 15 miles from the city center without “substantially raising” our current utility rate of $14.24 a month. Waco has said it would cost $11 more a month to use a distant site, a number that is highly debatable and has not been substantiated since being announced.

But rather than try and figure out how everyone else does it, Waco is actually contemplating placing the landfill right at the city limits, a few hundred yards upstream from our drinking water and within a mile or two of an airport, two public schools, five churches, a busy school bus intersection and 1,500 homes within our city limits. Any rational person would look at that choice and say, there must be a better way.

Hewitt is not the only town that seems smarter than Waco. Just look to Georgetown, which for $16.50 a month ships its solid waste through the Austin metroplex to Creedmore 51 miles away. (Georgetown is raising its rate to $18.80 next month.) Or even Gatesville, which puts its trash in our current landfill, 30-plus miles away, for $12.86 a month. (Luckily, Gatesville is sending its sewer sludge to Temple at present.) We could go on, but there are many municipalities shipping their trash well away from their population centers for a utility price similar to what we are paying in Waco. Is it too much to ask, “Why can’t Waco do the same thing?” Furthermore, since we accept waste from 11 other cities and counties, why make our own Waco neighborhoods a trash receptacle for the whole region and injure our own citizens while doing it?

Waco needs to solve the problem of how to economically put trash farther away. Then the problem of finding a landfill location suddenly becomes solvable instead of impossible. Even if using a remote location is only a temporary fix, it would buy us time to find a permanent solution everyone can accept. Now it’s true some of these other cities use private hauling companies and private landfills, and perhaps we in Waco should look at these options. We are not pushing privatization specifically, but this we know: If we can’t figure out a place to put our trash (and all the trash from elsewhere brought to us) well away from our own drinking water, burgeoning neighborhoods and schools, then the city of Waco shouldn’t be in the trash business.

Andrew Schmeltekopf is a Waco businessman who lives in Woodway. Local physician Brad Holland is chairman of Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill, which contends that a city landfill at the Old Lorena Road site would endanger the city’s water supply, lower property values and violate a legal agreement to not expand the current Highway 84 landfill.