You’ve heard me say this before: Waco is a great place to be — our economy is booming and our population continues to increase each year. With that growth comes the need to improve and expand core services, such as water, roads and waste management.
The city is already hard at work upgrading our sidewalks, streets and water and wastewater infrastructure. Now the time has come to begin the decision-making process about our solid-waste disposal needs. These decisions will not be easy, especially because the residents who live nearest to the landfill may experience real and perceived impacts. It is our responsibility as the City Council to make a decision that is best for our entire community and to endeavor to mitigate any negative impacts on nearby residents. As we approach these decisions, it is important to understand the history and the facts related to our landfill planning.
The City of Waco has operated the Type 1 Municipal Solid Waste landfill near Lehigh Cement for many years. The landfill receives more than 288,000 tons of waste — that’s approximately 26,182 filled trash trucks — per year. While the landfill serves an 11-county region, it is important to note that more than 60 percent of the trash coming into the landfill is from Waco households and businesses, and more than 95 percent of the trash coming into the landfill is from households and businesses inside McLennan County.
Waco has historically taken a regional leadership role in providing critical core services to its surrounding communities. These services include water, public health, emergency preparedness, wastewater processing and solid-waste disposal. Taking this leadership role is a responsibility that carries with it significant challenges. We heavily depend on support and cooperation from area leaders and entities to accomplish these efforts. These regional partnerships are tremendously beneficial to Waco residents and to the residents of Waco’s surrounding communities. They provide the structure that sustains the growth in our area and they directly impact economic development. Without them, we would not grow, because we would have inadequate capacity and limited ability to control costs.
It should be clear that we ALL need adequate landfill space to support our present needs as well as growth in Waco and surrounding cities in the future.
Running out of room
Several years ago, the city’s Solid Waste Services Department began planning for a new landfill because the current landfill’s capacity is limited. Now, it is estimated that the Waco landfill has only about seven years of life remaining (if the current amount of tonnage hauled into it remains consistent). Due to the length of time needed for landfill site selection, design, engineering and construction, we must make important decisions now.
Once a new landfill site opens, the current landfill will be closed and will become available as a site for a future public park and trail system or another amenity for the community. This has been successfully accomplished in many other cities.
For the last several years, the city’s landfill planning efforts have been focused on a parcel of land along FM 2837 (Old Lorena Road) adjacent to the current landfill, land presently owned by the city. If selected, the proposed 290-acre site — slightly larger than the current 237-acre landfill — will have a large buffer separating it from our current landfill site. It would also have a generously landscaped buffer separating it from Old Lorena Road and from neighboring tracts.
At our June 20 council meeting, at the request of the City Council, city staff and our engineering consultants presented some alternate site options. In selecting a potential landfill site there are many variables and state regulations that must be considered. The geology of the site is a key determining factor, as well as many others.
The sites discussed at the meeting were all more than 15 miles away from the center of our city, and we learned that siting a landfill at a distance greater than 15 miles from the city center would cause us to need a transfer station in addition to a new landfill. This is because, beyond that distance, it becomes more efficient to transfer the waste to large vehicles for hauling than to haul the waste directly in the trash trucks. However, a transfer station would require a substantial capital investment and would add significant costs to ongoing operations over locating the landfill within a 15-mile radius of Waco.
City Council heard that distant options would have a drastic impact on garbage fees by increasing residential rates from approximately $14.20 a month to an estimated $26.13 — an 84 percent increase. Commercial rates could increase by an estimated 38 percent. Other municipalities and businesses serviced by private waste companies also would experience significant cost increases if we were to select a distant site for our landfill.
The search continues
At the conclusion of the presentation at our June 20 council meeting, City Council asked staff and our engineering consultants to look for alternate sites that would be close enough to the city center that they would not require a transfer station. The City Council will receive a presentation on those potential alternate sites Tuesday afternoon at our council meeting work session.
Regardless of where a new landfill is built, the City of Waco will meet all requirements set forth by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The city also will take steps to address the concerns we have heard from the community such as odor, protection of water quality, protection of wildlife and potential impacts on air and ground transportation — all of which are a required part of the regulatory review.
Additionally, we will make efforts to ensure properties in areas surrounding the new landfill will be minimally affected. Texas strictly requires a minimum 125-foot buffer zone around permitted landfill boundaries. We plan to establish more generous buffers than those that are required, and the design will minimize the view of the landfill from the street and adjacent properties. With these considerations in mind, the city continues to work diligently toward a solution that will best serve the entire Waco community.
As mayor of Waco, I want to be sure you are informed of the decision-making process and I and the other members of the City Council want to hear your feedback. We will make every effort to inform you of public meetings regarding this project and we encourage you to be involved in learning the facts, getting involved and maintaining an open dialogue with us in order to determine a new landfill location that meets the needs and interests of the Greater Waco area.
Without a new landfill, the City of Waco would have extreme operational challenges and uncontrolled costs. Planning ahead is imperative in order for the city to have an adequate site in full operation before the life of the current landfill runs out.