Much debate continues concerning Waco’s next landfill site with opinions and accusations coming from and leveled at all directions. There are valid concerns from residents and valid reasoning from the city of Waco, so I anticipate the arguments will continue and escalate on both sides till a judge somewhere makes a decision that ends it all. I want to return our attention for a moment to the initial topic that continues to concern me: the city’s decision to choose the site along Old Lorena Road near U.S. Highway 84 without due diligence for its citizens or its responsibilities.
Consider these points:
- The city of Waco came to a legal settlement in 1992 that included an agreement by the city to “not expand the [Landfill] 948-A beyond its current boundaries” (Settlement agreement, city of Waco & Wanda Glaze, 1992). City officials were aware they needed to identify a different site for the next landfill well before the current site filled to capacity.
- The city then failed to research possible landfill sites from 1992 to 2017.
- The city used Waco citizens’ money to purchase land with the intention of expanding the current landfill. The city began purchasing the adjacent land in 2004 and attempted to gain support for a landfill expansion in 2005, without success.
- The city continued to purchase adjacent land, as evidenced in 2011, for the purpose of “landfill expansion.” (Waco City Council, April 19, 2011, agenda item.) The funds for this purpose were approved through consent agenda items without a public hearing to provide information to or receive input from the citizens of Waco.
- The city contracted SCS Engineers Inc. to prepare a 20-year solid-waste master plan in April 2014. (Waco City Council, April 1, 2014, Resolution RES-2014-159), the results of which determined the existing landfill would reach capacity in 10 years. The results of the master plan were not shared in a Waco City Council meeting and are inaccessible on the city’s website.
- The city states this is a “new landfill” and attributes the definition to the need for a new permit, rather than utilizing the existing permit. The City Council awarded a contract of $891,000 to SCS Engineers Inc. for design and permit work on the proposed landfill project in August 2016 without a public hearing to provide information to or receive input from the citizens of Waco (Waco City Council, August 16, 2016, Resolution RES-2016-527).
- The first public notification of the city’s in-progress plan was an agenda item on the March 7, 2017, City Council work session (WS-2017-322 Presentation and Discussion on Proposed Landfill Site Planning and Permitting). The action agenda describes: “This presentation will provide an overview of prior city of Waco waste disposal planning, discuss the current planning and permitting process and summarize some public concerns about the proposed new landfill site.” The minutes for this meeting show the council asked staff “to evaluate additional sites for a new landfill and prepare comparative analysis data.” The language used indicates that:
- “Current planning and permitting process” — the city planned to permit and use the site along Old Lorena Road near U.S. Highway 84 for the landfill and did so without a public hearing to provide information to or receive input from the citizens of Waco.
- “Evaluate additional sites” — the city had not researched or evaluated additional sites for the landfill placement prior to the March 7, 2017, meeting despite knowing the current landfill would reach capacity within 10 years of 2014.
The definition of expansion is “to increase in extent, size, volume, scope; to spread or stretch out.”
These facts lead me to conclude:
- The city knew the settlement agreement in 1992 prohibited expansion of the current landfill.
- The city knew the citizens of Waco disapproved of using land adjacent to the current landfill for expansion in 2005.
- The city knew, as of 2014, the current landfill at its present rate would reach capacity by 2024.
- The city failed to research sites to meet future landfill needs between 2014 and 2017, when they finally did so at the urging of citizens.
- The city proceeded to plan and permit the Highway 84/Old Lorena Road land for landfill purposes.
- The city failed to hold a public hearing to provide information to/receive input from the citizens on landfill plans prior to a March 2, 2017, neighborhood association meeting.
- Plans for the future landfill are an expansion of the current landfill and violate the city’s agreement of 1992.
The citizens of Waco expect due diligence by the city when making choices that affect the use of city money, the provision of services and the use of land in Waco. There is a process for these types of decisions and that process is in place to ensure information is provided to and input is received from citizens of this city. The September 2017 City Council meetings called for public hearings and consideration of zoning issues, changing an address of .04 acres and approving special permits to churches to operate shelters. As these are important topics for public hearings, so too is the location of a landfill within the city limits, especially one with a highly controversial history. The process may result in the same conclusion. Would not that outcome bolster the city’s claims?
The citizens of Waco expect honesty and integrity from our leaders, representatives and city staff. I have faith they expect that of themselves as well. Our mayor, representatives and staff have handled situations arising from the recent growth of the city and future planning with deliberation and subsequent resolve. But they missed the mark on this one. They intentionally avoided public notice and input because they knowingly pursued a course of action against the will of the citizens. The best course of action at this point is to start over: Respect the concerns of citizens, adhere to the city’s agreements, apologize for misunderstandings and errors in judgment and provide the appropriate due diligence that should have been done in the first place. City officials can restore the public’s trust in their integrity by acting with honesty and transparency.