To its credit, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality presents rigorous criteria for cities planning landfills, primarily to ensure water and air quality, public safety and easy access. If those are indeed worthy considerations along with restraining taxpayer-funded costs, we can see no logical reason why the Waco City Council should jettison from consideration for a future landfill a site that it already owns along Old Lorena Road near U.S. Highway 84.
In today’s Trib, we place the spotlight on two columns about Waco’s ongoing landfill dustup — one by Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill leadership opposed to the Old Lorena Road site for a host of reasons, the other from a locally based environmental scientist who offers a strong defense of the same site for a host of reasons. In recent weeks we have run columns offering clashing perspectives on this by everyone from civic leader Ashley Bean Thornton to retired hospital administrator Kent Keahey to former Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr.
Complicating these matters: Because of potential litigation and fiscal concerns, only so much is known about three other potential landfill sites city officials are now studying. State law allows the council to discuss such matters in private. That said — and this is where the logic arises — it’s highly unlikely city officials would abruptly risk opening a landfill that might pollute Lake Waco, as critics suggest. The city has spent millions safeguarding our drinking water, both in court and through such enormous pursuits as a $46 million dissolved air flotation plant.
If the City Council decides to pursue an alternative site, it may well find itself dealing with issues of eminent domain and litigation beyond what it now faces from the Citizens to Save Lake Waco and possibly Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill. Meanwhile, the Old Lorena Road site rates consideration based on its rock-solid geological foundation (complete with 400 to 600 feet of blue shale). And no reason exists to assume risk of runoff into Lake Waco will increase through a new landfill governed by similar, state-endorsed protocols as the current landfill.
Former Mayor Duncan also makes a case for scrutiny of more remote sites for a landfill, given the expense that landfill consultants believe will rise if the landfill is far enough away to require transfer stations and a new, hardy fleet of trucks to haul garbage longer distances. While such costs might be easily borne by homeowners in comfortable subdivisions along Highway 84, Duncan concedes, “to most of the parents in Waco Independent School District or the elderly living on fixed incomes, the increased cost will be a real burden.”
If there’s one troublesome gnat in the city’s compelling case, it’s whether use of the Old Lorena Road site for a “new landfill” technically constitutes expansion of the current landfill, forbidden through a legal agreement the city signed with a landowner on Old Lorena Road in 1992 and now subject of a lawsuit. The city says the law bolsters its case that the landfill site would not be an expansion. Yet the proximity of sites only aggravates bad feelings on both sides, ironically confounding otherwise strong, legitimate arguments for the Old Lorena Road site.