TN County Had No Idea What State Allowed In Its Landfill

Questions Surround Small County Landfill
Posted at 10:09 PM, May 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-18 23:26:00-04

Officials in a small Tennessee County are in a battle with a private company over their landfill and they blame poor oversight by the state for creating the problem.

The nearly 12,000 residents of Decatur County own their landfill, but in 1996 the county turned over operation of the landfill to a private company.

Two years later the private company got approval from the state to accept 35,000 tons a year of a so-called "special waste" -- aluminum slag -- from a smelting plant in Mt. Pleasant

County officials say they had no idea the special waste was coming into their landfill.

"I cannot find any documentation what-so-ever that the county was informed," said County Mayor Mike Creasy.

State officials admit there were no public hearings.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked an official with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation,

"It's possible the county had no idea the stuff was coming in?"

"It's possible," responded Patrick Flood, Director of Solid Waste Management with TDEC.

Decatur Waste Services operates the landfill and said the county should have known, because for years it received royalties from the extra money it received for taking the special waste.

The landfill no longer takes aluminum slag.

State officials now say it was wrong to allow it to come into the landfill in the first place.

"Like a lot of things in life you learn as you go along. I think things were done back in the day that would never be done today and we would never allow that," said Patrick Flood with TDEC.

Decatur Waste Services recently informed the county that it wants to walk away from the landfill unless the county takes care of waste water that is generated every time rain touches the landfill's trash.

The waste water is called leachate, and because of the aluminum slag, the leachate has become expensive to dispose of properly.

Decatur Waste Services has sued the county and said its original contract clearly states the county is responsible for disposing of the leachate.

But county officials say their small water treatment facility can't handle the leachate.

The county is concerned Decatur Waste Services will walk away and leave the landfill to the county.

"That would be our worst nightmare," Mayor Mike Creasy said. "There's no way we got the expertise to run an operation like this."

He said Decatur Waste Services just wants get rid of the landfill, "Hey we go this this issue, let's dump it on little Decatur County, they ain't big enough to fight us."

Officials with Decatur Waste Services say they have been paying to dispose of the leachate for years, but now its time for the county to cover the cost.

Last year Decatur Waste Services paid a local trucking company to haul the toxic leachate to Dyersburg, Tennessee for proper disposal.

But the tanker truck didn't travel that far.

Instead it stopped in neighboring Benton County and illegally dumped its load near James Webb's yard.

"He backed in there and kind of had his truck at the edge of the woods," Webb said.

The wastewater flowed down a ditch into Webb's yard.

"It had a bad smell to it and the water was black looking," Webb said.

State regulators rushed to the scene and eventually cited the local trucking company -- B and T Hauling for illegal dumping.

An investigation into why it happened is still ongoing.

Decatur Waste Services said it was a victim because it paid the trucking company to haul waste and it didn't follow through.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said it regularly monitors the landfill's safety.

The department said the issue over the leachate is a contract dispute and they hope it gets worked out.

The Mayor of Decatur County said TDEC got them into this mess by approving the special waste back in 1998.

He said the landfill should not be dumped on the county.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "There's no way you could clean this up?"

Mayor Creasy responded, "There is no possible way. No possible way. One year would wipe out our entire budget."