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County landfill nears capacity

Posted 2/08/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Back when the McKenzie County Landfill was built in 1992, county officials were pretty confident that the new facility would last 50 years.
But that estimated longevity didn’t take into consideration the volume of garbage now flowing into the landfill today on a daily basis as a result of the county’s rapidly increasing population or the tons of new garbage being hauled in that are associated with the boom in the oil patch.
“For the past year, the county landfill has been averaging over 39.4 tons of garbage a day,” states Mike Greer, McKenzie County engineer. “And all that garbage has rapidly filled our existing landfill.”
According to Greer, since January of 2011, the volume of garbage that is being deposited in the landfill has been increasing exponentially.
“In January of 2011, the landfill was seeing an average of 16.8 tons of garbage a day,” stated Greer. “But since then the volume has just kept increasing. During the month of December, we took in an average of 70.2 tons of garage a day.”
And all of that garbage has not only completely erased the 50-year life expectancy of the landfill, but is also forcing the county to come up with a whole new plan to deal with the higher garbage volume it is seeing.
“For the short run, we have been able to make some adjustments to our fill slopes at the landfill,” stated Greer. “If we hadn’t been able to make those adjustments, our county landfill would have been completely filled by the end of this summer.”
According to Greer, the county is in the process of spending $1.2 million to $1.6 million, depending on approval from the North Dakota Department of Health, that will add one additional 3.2-acre cell to the landfill, which will keep the landfill going until the end of 2014.
With the borrowed time that the new cell is going to give the county, Greer says that the county is now looking at a major land acquisition as well as spending millions more in funds to upgrade the landfill.
“We are now working with the State of North Dakota to acquire an additional 80 acres of land which are adjacent to the existing landfill,” stated Greer.
According to Greer, the existing landfill is currently a 30-acre site and is only permitted by the State of North Dakota to take in 20 tons of garbage per day.
“Because of the tonnage of garbage that is coming into our existing landfill, we are going to have to be classified as a Subtitle D landfill,” stated Greer. “That is the same classification as the municipal landfills in Bismarck, Dickinson and Williston. And that means that we are going to have to institute additional environmental measures to meet much stricter compliance guidelines from the state.”
Greer is confident that the state will agree to providing the county with the additional 80 acres for the landfill’s expansion. And once the county has the land, he says that the new facility should have a life expectancy of 50 years. But then he’s heard that prediction before.
“If we can keep our garbage going into the landfill at 100 tons per day,   the new landfill should last 50 years.”
But Greer is quick to note that again that 50-year life expectancy could change if the population of the area continues to increase.
“All of the garbage currently coming into the landfill is from within McKenzie County,” states Greer. “About 60 percent of the garbage is coming from private garbage haulers who are serving the oilfield sites, while the balance is coming from Watford City, Alexander and private haulers who serve the county’s rural residents.”
And it is the possibility of those numbers changing dramatically, according to Greer, that will ultimately determine how close the new 50-year projects are.
“The operation of the landfill has completely changed in the last two years,” states Greer. “Two years ago, one person could handle everything at the landfill. Today, the county has two full-time employees out there and we are looking at hiring a third person.”
While the county is looking at making significant changes to the existing landfill, Greer says that the county is also adjusting its landfill fees to help defray the new costs associated with the expansion efforts.
In 2009, the landfill generated approximately $160,000 in fees, according to Greer, while in 2011, it took in just over $460,000.
“The county is increasing its fees at the landfill on March 1 to more fairly reflect the costs that the county is incurring,” states Greer.
As part of the fee increase, compacted  municipal garbage rates will increase from $12.50 per yard to $15 per yard. The largest increase, where rates will increase from $15 per yard to $40 per yard, will be assessed against commercial (oilfield) haulers.
Under the new rate structure, the landfill would generate approximately $800,000 based on 2011 volumes in 2012, according to Greer.
“It is our goal that the landfill will pay for itself,” states Greer. “And if it doesn’t make a profit, it should at least be a break-even operation and still provide some revenue for future expansion.”