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News Commissioners ponder landfill dilemma

County looking at options as landfill nears capacity.

County leaders met Tuesday night to discuss the future of the Macon County Landfill. With an average of 30,000 tons of trash a year being piled into the landfill, the current plan's days are numbered.

Commissioner Paul Higdon, who acts as the liaison to the solid waste department brought the capacity issue to the attention of the board during its regularly scheduled monthly meeting, requesting a special called meeting to discuss possible solutions. Tuesday night, commissioners heard from Chris Stahl, director of Solid Waste Management for Macon County, on possible solutions to avoid reaching capacity at the landfill.

Stahl laid out three possible courses of action for the future of the landfill, each with a myriad of side issues including financial, political, service level, control, and length of commitment. Stahl informed the board that he used real historic data in developing projected costs and future capacity levels, but options were not meant to be exact accounts due to a wide range of unpredictable variables influencing each plan.

The first option Stahl described to the board is the current path Macon County is following. Macon County is undergoing a year-long process of preliminary hydrogeological work in order to just develop Phase III of the existing landfill.

If the county decides to continue with Option I, the development of Phase III will have a footprint of approximately 22 acres, a capacity of 900,000 cubic yards of airspace. The total cost to the county for Option I would be $1,642,500 per year, which would be an $812,500 increase to what the county is currently paying.

Option II would lead the county in an entirely different direction, and instead of developing property within the county to expand the landfill, would call for the county's waste to be shipped to neighboring counties or states.

Stahl explained that while the other options have a lifespan and are only possible until the landfill is once again at capacity, Option II, the "ship and tip" option, presumably, would have no end date or capacity level. While capacity would no longer be a threat, Stahl explained that with Option II comes a change in terms of service and distance to receiving landfill as outside landfills reach their limits. “Having surveyed neighboring counties, I estimate that the average cost per ton to ship and tip at this time to be about $45 to $50 per ton,” said Stahl.

One concern with this method lies in the fact that no new landfills have been constructed regionally, only expanding, so every existing landfill has the potential to reach capacity which would result in Macon County traveling further and further to find available landfills. Currently, Stahl said that Macon County would look at shipping trash to landfills located in Georgia.

Option II's total cost to the county is estimated to be $1,920,000 per year, with a $1,090,000 per year increase compared to the current costs.

The final option presented to the county would be to instead of only developing Phase III, would be to move toward expanding that section of the landfill as well. If Phase III was expanding, the footprint is projected to be approximately 36 acres with a capacity of 2,800,000 cubic yards of airspace. “The principle difference between Options I and III is taking advantage of economic of scale and improved geometry of the footprint to reduce the unit cost of development and greatly extend the life expectancy of the landfill,” explained Stahl.

With the third option, commissioners would have to look into the cost of property acquisition in order to have the available space to expand the existing landfill.

The third option would cost the county a total of $1,272,000 per year with an increase of $442,000 from the total operationing costs annually.

No action was taken on the presentation during Tuesday night's meeting. Commissioners will continue to evaluate each option before making a decision.


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