About 200 people showed up Tuesday to talk with a gym full of experts and city officials about the future replacement for the Waco Regional Landfill.

But while the conversations tended to be friendly, they seemed to do little to blunt the fierce opposition to the leading prospective landfill site along Old Lorena Road.

“The open dialogue is good,” Twin Rivers resident Ron Rieger said after talking to Councilman Jim Holmes. “The problem I have is that the transparency is too late.”

Other attendees from the Highway 84 area echoed the sentiment that city officials have already fixed their minds on the 270-acre site on Old Lorena Road, which is next to the existing landfill and within a mile of the Twin Rivers subdivision.

Engineering consultants have ranked the Old Lorena Road site as the best choice over three other alternative sites they explored, based on criteria such as geology and transportation access. The alternative sites have not been disclosed outside of executive session.

But Holmes, in a discussion with Rieger, said he is still hoping to persuade the council to pick another site.

“I think there are a couple more viable sites,” Holmes said. “You have to hope people are looking at all the facts. We have a lot of legacy decisions we’re dealing with that were made maybe 10 or 15 years ago, and it’s good to peel that back.”

Mayor Kyle Deaver said he hopes to have a vote on the landfill site by year’s end, and he said there’s a small possibility it could be the next council meeting, Oct. 17.

A group called Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill claims 1,900 members and has launched a citywide campaign against the site. The group’s leaders set up a table outside the meeting Tuesday at the Bledsoe-Miller Community Center to give their side of the story. Inside, visitors could talk directly with city council members, regulatory experts, city staff and the city’s landfill consultants.

Deaver said he heard from supporters as well as opponents of the Old Lorena Road site. He said he doubts anyone changed their mind because of the event, but he thought it was constructive.

“People have very strong views about this, but everyone has been respectful of each other and tried to listen to each other,” Deaver said. “It’s good to stand and talk to people face to face.”

John Dickson, an appraiser who is part of the Highway 84 opposition group, challenged Waco engineer Jed Walker about the selection process Walker helped craft. Dickson said the consultants measured landfill distance from the U.S. Highway 84-State Highway 6 interchange, but he produced a map showing the center of Waco in North Waco.

Walker said the highway interchange was considered because it is near the solid waste trucking center on Schroeder Drive. But he said the consultants also measured a 15-mile radius from 18th Street and Waco Drive, which is closer to the geographical center of Greater Waco. He said moving the center point by a mile or two wouldn’t have made a difference in choosing finalists.

“There were no sites that were borderline,” he said.

Sarah Pick, who lives in the Hidden Valley subdivision, said the site selection criteria seem “reasonably fair,” but have a bias toward the existing site and don’t account for the litigation the site faces.

“They have a real perception problem,” Pick said. “They’ve dug themselves in. The whole process still seems like smoke and mirrors.”

Sam Starling, a pilot and owner of the JetPro dealership at McGregor Executive Airport, quizzed SCS Engineering consultant Kevin Yard on the bird-strike dangers an Old Lorena Road site would pose to planes.

Starling said he has personally suffered six bird strikes in the past 15 years in the Waco area, including three buzzards, which are common at the current landfill.

Yard said the bird-strike concerns are valid and will be addressed in the state permitting process.

“Based on the worst case I’ve seen, there’s a chance you may have to have a bird management plan,” Yard said.

Afterward, Starling said the city should have a better answer to his question before choosing a site.

“That’s like running off a cliff and then grabbing onto a limb on the way down,” he said.

Kay Vinzant, executive officer for the Heart of Texas Builders Association, said she’s hoping the city will decide against the Old Lorena Road site. Putting a landfill there could cool growth in the Highway 84 corridor, Vinzant said.

“The No. 1 issue is why would you want to put a landfill in a place where the highest-income tax revenue is coming from?” she said. “It would make some land undevelopable. I hope they take all the information they hear and find a solution for everyone.”

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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