McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

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August 28, 2013

Officials debate cost of extending, closing landfill

McALESTER — Forty years or three years — or less?

Those were among the numbers discussed during the city of McAlester’s Audit and Finance Advisory Committee’s quarterly meeting  held Aug. 21 in an upstairs conference room at City Hall.

The numbers had to do with the projected life of the McAlester Municipal Landfill, or how long it will continue to operate before it’s permanently closed. McAlester City Engineer and Public Works Director John Modzelewski spoke about the challenges facing the landfill, at the invitation of Committee Chairman Stephen Foster.

Modzelewski said the landfill has a “theoretical life” and an “actual life.”

According to the “theoretical life,” the landfill could operate for another 40 years at the current rate, he said.

However, the numbers Modzelewski presented for the “actual rate” are much smaller.

“We’ve got about three years left at the actual rate,” he said.

One reason the numbers presented by Modzelewski were so different is because the city has a permit to use 48 acres at the landfill, but so far has used only 27 of those acres. The projected 40 years in the theoretical life is how long the landfill is projected to last before it would have to be closed, if the city decided to use all of the acreage that had been permitted for use at the landfill.

However, because that would represent a huge expense, little interest has been shown at City Hall for pursuing that path.

Instead, Modzelewski suggested looking at shutting the entire landfill down, with the spring of 2014 considered as a target date to start seriously considering that option.

However, while expanding cell usage at the city landfill is expensive, the expense of closing an expensive landfill is also huge.

Currently, the landfill is open only four hours monthly,  on the second Saturday of each month, from 8 a.m. until noon. Use of the landfill is restricted to McAlester residents only, city officials said during the meeting.

That’s a change from past years, when the landfill was available to anyone who wanted to use it. Modzelewski said he’s head stories about commercial construction operations traveling to McAlester from as far away as Durant to use the city’s landfill.

While the current policy of only opening for four hours once a month provides McAlester residents an opportunity to use the landfill, another reason for having the landfill open for only four hours as month is to keep it from filling up too quickly.

Also, keeping the landfill open — even if only for four hours a month — spares the city the expense of having to close it, at least for now.

Modzelewski said it costs the city $1,600 a day to operate the landfill.

Another reason the city is looking  at closing the landfill within the next three years has to do with new requirements from the  Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

Referring to the mounds of garbage which  must be covered with surface materials the landfill, Modzelewski said the required slope used to be at a three-to-one slope. Now, the requirement is four-to-one, he said.

 Unfortunately, from Modzelewski’s viewpoint, some slopes at the landfill that have already been covered been covered with soil and have grass growing on them may have to be reworked because they are not at the required four-to-one slope.

“We may not have three years left,” Modzelewski said, referring to one possible result of the new regulations.

However, closing the landfill within that time period could also prove costly, since the DEQ has a number of mandates that must be met — including reclamation of the land — before a landfill in Oklahoma can be officially closed.

The city of McAlester is part of landfill financial assurance group, along with several other cites, including Ponca City and Durant. When a city joins the group, the procedure called for the city to put a certain amount of dollars into an account, to help assure the money will be there when a city officially closes a landfill.

“We’ve got $1.7 million set aside in an escrow account,” Modzelewski said.

However, city officials were told it may not be easy to access the $1.7 million.

For one thing, the original plan had been for the city to access the needed funds when the life of the landfill had expired, which is still officially projected to happen in 40 years, based on the premise that the city would continue developing all of the land available at the landfill. It’s projected it would cost the city $2.8 million to close the landfill in 40 years

Asked how much it would cost to close  the landfill sooner, Modzelewski said “I would guess less than the $2,8 million, if we were to close it next year.”

Modzelewski was asked if the DEQ has required the city to redo the slopes already covered at a 3-to-1 ratio at the new ratio of four-to-one.

“I think it’s better for us to do it voluntarily, rather than have the DEQ come in,” he said.

Also during the meeting, Modzelewski discussed the possibility of opening the landfill more often in connection with a possible expanded mulching operation, with the possibility discussed of the city purchasing a chipper, or using one borrowed from a utility company.

“I can see us having a very good composting program,  “Modzelewski said.

City Manager Pete Stasiak said one possibility is to apply for a grant for a mobile chipper, that could be used  by all over Pittsburg County in the wake of a disaster which resulted in the need to remove debris around the county. Although such a chipper would not be owned exclusively by the city, it could be stationed at the municipal landfill, he said.

After hearing the presentation, the consensus among committee members was to have Modzelewski obtain more information and present to the Audit and Finance Committee during the group’s December meeting.

In addition to Modzelewski, Stasiak and Foster, also attending the meeting were Stasiak’s Chief Executive Assistant Linda Daniels and City Chief Financial Officer Toni Ervin, along with Audit and Finance Committee members Walter Bethune and Gullick, as well as Ward 1 City Councilor Weldon Smith and Ward City Councilor and Vice Mayor Sam Mason.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

For more on this story, see the print or electronic editions of the McAlester News-Capital. Click here for print edition home delivery or click here to see the Smart Edition for your computer, tablet, e-reader or smartphone.

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