Waco Regional Landfill

Heavy equipment prepares trash at the Waco Regional Landfill to be covered. The Waco City Council is considering four sites for a replacement landfill.

The Waco City Council got a look at three alternatives to the proposed landfill site on Old Lorena Road, all within 15 miles of the city.

Consultants told the council that all four sites have promise, but they ranked the Old Lorena Road site near Highway 84 West as most suitable based on a range of criteria.

“None of (the sites) were bad,” SCS Engineers consultant Kevin Yard said. “Any one of them has potential. … All have their pros and cons. In all my years, I’ve never found a perfect site for a landfill.”

The council heard an analysis of the sites from Yard and Waco engineer Jed Walker in their open work session before heading into an executive session in which they got to see the potential sites for the first time. Those sites have not been made public, and some may not be able to be acquired without the power of eminent domain, consultants said.

The consultants started with 88 potential sites, including some that were not for sale and would have to be cobbled together from multiple properties. They threw out sites that have excessive wetlands or floodplains, that are more than 15 miles from the center of town or that are within 10,000 feet of an airport.

That left 11 sites, which were then graded according to a matrix of factors including geological conditions, proximity to neighborhoods, ease of property acquisition, transportation infrastructure, hauling distances and land cost.

The Old Lorena Road site, which is next to Waco Regional Landfill, scored worst on proximity to neighborhoods of 50 or more houses. The 270-acre site is about a mile from the Twin Rivers subdivision.

But the site scored high on transportation accessibility, as well as ease of acquisition, since the city already owns it. The site also scored strongest on hydrogeology, based on studies SCS has already conducted.

Yard said he saw “zero possibility” that a landfill at the Old Lorena Road site would contaminate underlying groundwater.

“There is absolutely no concern with hydrogeology,” he said. “There’s hundreds of feet of shale underneath. You’re going to be placing a multimillion-dollar liner with a leachate collection system over hundreds of feet of impermeable shale.

“From the standpoint of runoff, on a day-to-day basis you have a well-qualified landfill staff putting trash in place and preparing for rainfall events, and waste is covered on a daily basis. As to the chances of an impact of downstream water supply, I have no concern at all.”

Councilman Jim Holmes, who has tended to side with landfill opponents who live in his West Waco district, questioned Yard and Walker closely.

Holmes suggested the criteria were biased toward the Old Lorena Road site because the city has already owned and studied it. He questioned how important the geology factor is, given modern methods of lining landfills and pumping out excess fluids, known as leachate.

And he said measuring transportation accessibility using a centerpoint of the Highway 6 and Highway 84 interchange gives an advantage to the Old Lorena site.

“I would challenge that,” Holmes said. “I would think most of Waco is north of that. It seems to put a bias on southern sites.”

Mayor Kyle Deaver and Councilman John Kinnaird defended the consultants’ methods, saying they have extensive experience in landfill siting decisions.

“I appreciate the work you’ve done and the time and effort the staff has put into this,” Deaver said. “It’s been quite exhaustive and exhausting. I’m interested to see what we find out in executive session.”

After seeing the actual sites in executive session, Holmes said he believes there are viable alternatives to Old Lorena Road.

“There’s still some work that needs to be done in vetting the potential sites, but I am optimistic there is a viable alternative. … I appreciate the staff commitment to trying to answer the questions.”

In an address to the council at the evening business session, Brad Holland, president of Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill, said he believes the council is making a real effort to look at other sites.

But he reiterated the group’s plea that the council remove the Old Lorena Road site from consideration, saying it is too close to neighborhoods, schools and McGregor Executive Airport.

Citing Yard’s statement on the unlikelihood of groundwater contamination at the Old Lorena Road site, Holland said his group has never claimed it would be a problem.

“It’s offsite runoff we’re concerned about,” he said. “After what we saw in Houston, we can see that everything is possible.”

After the executive session, Deaver said his takeaway was that all the sites have challenges, but cost may be a deciding factor.

“The council in the work session asked for comparative costs and what it might do to our rate structure,” he said. “That has not been calculated. I think we can get that information reasonably quickly.”

Deaver said he would like to have a decision on the site by the second meeting in October.

“We have to have one by the end of the year,” he said. “At some point we start to jeopardize the ability to continue to use our landfill.”

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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