THE PEOPLE SPEAK

9 04 2006

The majority of the two hundred and fifty people attending an “informational meeting” about a proposed landfill in Bellevue were strongly opposed to the project. As a result, it probably won’t happen. The meeting, called and chaired by Rep. Gary Moore, drew an overflow crowd to Bellevue Middle School auditorium. Attendees, many bearing “NO DUMP” placards handed out by dump opponents outside the hall, first listened to (and heckled) a well-crafted power point presentation by the dump’s proponents followed by a simple rebuttal from Dorrie Bolze of the Harpeth River Watershed Association: it’s illegal for the simple reason that it’s potentially dangerous, so don’t do it. There’s no way to clean up a polluted water table.

The crowd largely shared her sentiment, and echoed it in one way or another throughout the evening. The dump’s advocates are asking for an amendment to the State Scenic Rivers Act that will allow them to fill this former quarry with about four million yards of construction and demolition waste over the next ten years, and then turn the leveled land over to the state for park and recreation purposes–and some condos. They want to clean up this attractive nuisance, this tragedy waiting to happen. A noble purpose, although little mention was made of the approximately thirty million dollars in dump fees the project will gross over its history–not to mention proceeds from the condominiums “Yeah, we’re in it to make a profit,” spokesman Crom Carmichael admitted. “Aren’t we all?”

This “everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?” attitude seemed to be at the heart of Carmichael’s case. At one point he produced a map of the Harpeth valley showing all the major point sources of pollution that flow into the river, challenging opponents of his plan to go after all the other polluters on the river. Not a bad idea, actually…. At another point he produced a chart showing that the water currently in the quarry is cleaner than the water in the river flowing by the quarry. He seemed to think this would justify creating another potential point source for pollution, but this logic failed to impress the crowd, one of whom shouted out, “The river’s polluted there because of all the crud washing into it from the Riverwalk development!”

This prompted Rep. Moore to ask the audience to please be courteous and allow Mr. Carmichael to finish his presentation. It was not the only time he had to make that request. Most but not all of the interruptions were from those against the dump, but at one point when someone was talking about the obligation of the current owners to secure the property against being an attractive nuisance, and referred to “the millions of dollars they have made from this quarry,” a representative of the current landowner called out, “Since when have you been my accountant?”

One surprise for anti-landfill campaigners was the advocates’ enlistment of Odell Binkley as a potential manager for the project. Odell operates a similar landfill on the floodplain of the Stones River on the other side of Nashville, and is highly regarded for the quality of his operation there. He was also one of the major movers in the effort to close down Nashville’s notorious downtown thermal plant. He is probably the most conscientious person available for the position, but even he had to admit, in response to residents’ repeated concerns about the potential for river pollution, “God’s the only one who can guarantee anything,” and God is not being offered the management of this landfill. Moreover, Karl Meyer reported to me that Binkley admitted to him after the meeting that he was still negotiating with the Carmichael crew about the terms of his management, that Carmichael and friends were having a hard time with some of the standards Binkley wanted to enforce, and were only offering him a five-year contract on the ten-year project.

I suspect that some of their difficulty comes from the recycling dilemma. posed by the project’s ten-year deadline. It is possible to recycle up to around 90% of what gets brought to C&D landfills, especially if you have someone who will take recycled material for fill rather than digging it out of someplace new. According to John vanderHarst, a well known Nashville recycling authority, Binkley recycles about 25% of what comes into his Stones River landfill. That ain’t 90%, but it’s better than Metro’s paltry 2.5%, or the complete lack of recycling at Southern Services, another major player in the Nashville trash game.

But the Newsom Pointe landfill people (“Newsom Pointe Reclamation Project” is the formal name for the dump proposal) are trying to fill their hole in just ten years. The traffic they will need to achieve this goal—it will take a truck every six minutes, eight hours a day, five days a week, for ten years, to fill the quarry with no recycling—is similar to what Mr. Binkley’s landfill on the east side of town is taking in from the whole county already, and with U.S. economic indicators raising red flags all over the place, the future of development on the west side of Nashville could be pretty iffy, and with that, the reality of actually filling this hole could vanish with the value of the dollar. So, it is in their best interests to recycle as little as possible, to make sure they make their deadline.

In response to repeated questioning, Carmichael said that if the ten-year deadline was looming and the quarry was not full, they would have to buy fill dirt from somewhere to finish it off—that, it seems, is one object of the ten million dollar bond they would be required to post before commencing operations. “How far is ten million dollars gonna go when diesel fuel hits ten dollars a gallon?” one resident demanded. Carmichael didn’t seem to understand the question.

Another way they could forfeit their bond is by polluting local ground water. Testing for interconnectivity between the quarry and the river still has not been done, but the quarry is almost certainly connected with the local water table, and many people in the area still get their water from wells. Mr. Binkley assured residents that, once the quarry was pumped out, the landfill would heat up enough to evaporate any water that entered it before it reached the bottom and carried potential pollutants from the landfill into the water table, citing his experience at Stone’s River for reference, but the audience did not seem convinced. After all, it was Mr. Binkley himself who said only God can guarantee anything. One audience member with an engineering background said that he understood that about 43% of all clay landfill liners leak, while another said he had been told in engineering school that all earthen dams leak. (I should point out that lining the stone pit with an “impermeable” clay liner is part of the Newsom Pointe plan.)

Carmichael also stressed the attractive nuisance danger of the currently abandoned quarry, as well as the fact that it has become a site for completely unregulated dumping. Area residents responded that it is the current landowner’s responsibility to stop this, and it doesn’t take turning the site into a landfill to make it more secure. Besides, there are two abandoned quarries in the state park across the street, and they’re tourist attractions, in spite of being nowhere near as spectacular as the Newsome Point quarry.

Representatives of the current owner (an elderly woman) said that if conversion of the quarry into a dump was not approved, they would reopen it as a quarry. In the meeting, they claimed that they still had all the permits they need for this, but Dana Coleman of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said in an email, “the site no longer has a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and would therefore be required to submit an application as though it were a new site.”

Such an application would require public hearings and, given the increasingly residential nature of the area, would meet just as much opposition, at least, as the landfill proposal. You can bet residents will be even more upset about dynamite than they are about construction and demolition waste.

At the end of the long line of people with questions was a local minister, who started talking about how much misinformation was circulating in the room and how there had been several public meetings called about the landfill that had attracted no attention. He seemed to be launching into a sermon on the benefits of the proposal when Rep. Moore interrupted him, asking “Do you have a question, sir?”

“No,” the minister replied, “I just wanted to make some remarks….”

“This is an informational meeting. We’re not asking people to speak up for or against the proposal. Please sit down.” Polite but firm. Thank you, Rep. Moore.

Representative Moore and Senator Henry, as well as Charles Graves of TDEC, all said in conclusion that,while they respected the good intentions of Mr. Carmichael and Mr. Binkley, they felt it would set a bad precedent to allow such a variance to the Scenic Rivers Act, and opposed the proposal. The manager of the Kingston Springs water system, which takes water from the Harpeth just a few miles below the quarry, had already voiced his concerns. Mayor Purcell’s office has announced that they see no need for another C&D landfill in Davidson County.

Charlie Tygard, the local Metro Council member who has advocated in favor of the project and was expected at the meeting, had phoned in his regrets to the organizers and gone to a hockey game instead, an announcement which drew hoots of derision from his assembled constituents.

The crowd left the auditorium with the feeling that there will not be a landfill in their back yard. With opposition from both local members of the state legislature, the City of Nashville, and TDEC, it seems at this point that the Harpeth River dump is dead in the water, so to speak. Maybe democracy still works.

music: “We Can Run (but we can’t hide)” by The Grateful Dead

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