The City of Smithville's engineering firm will be asked to determine the cost of treating landfill leachate at the waste water treatment plant. Once the board of aldermen has that information it will determine whether or not the city should starting charging the county again for this service.
Although no vote could be taken, Mayor Taft Hendrixson said during a brief workshop Thursday night that city officials would contact the J.R. Wauford Company to conduct the cost study.
The workshop was held between city and county leaders in an effort to come to terms on an agreement on the treatment and disposal of landfill leachate in the city waste water treatment plant. County Mayor Mike Foster said if the county has to pay, it could be a costly venture, and if Smithville were to refuse to accept the leachate, the county could be forced to shut down the landfill until an arrangement could be worked out with another city or county. "The landfill is a nasty place. I'll acknowledge that. But without being able to haul leachate, we would have to close the landfill that minute," said Foster.
The City of Smithville, since August 2008, has not been paying the county for the disposal of city garbage in the landfill and the county, since March 2009, has not been paying for the treatment of landfill leachate being hauled to the city's waste water treatment plant.
County Mayor Foster has said that this non-payment verbal agreement between he and Smithville Mayor Taft Hendrixson was reached months ago. But according to Mayor Hendrixson, there was no such deal. He said the city's refusal to pay is based on the principle that the county should not be charging Smithville a fee to dump city garbage in the county landfill since city residents are already supporting the operation of the landfill as county taxpayers.
Although some landfill leachate has been hauled to and treated at the city sewer plant for several years, the leachate issue became more of a concern after the county opened a new five acre cell at the landfill in 2009. Heavy rains caused a great amount of leachate (storm water) to run through the new cell and that water, according to Foster had to be removed, treated and disposed of properly according to state and federal environmental regulations.
Mayor Hendrixson said it was during that time that County Mayor Foster contacted him. " Mr. Foster had come to me to discuss the new landfill. He said until it got enough garbage in there to soak up most of the leachate (he wanted to haul the leachate to the sewer plant). I told him to go ahead and put it in our sewer system. We did and it has continued on since then. So that's where we are," said Mayor Hendrixson.
County Mayor Foster said he sent a letter to Mayor Hendrixson during the summer asking that the original two year verbal agreement be renewed in writing, but that so far nothing has been done.
During a city council meeting last month, Alderman Shawn Jacobs asked that a workshop be held with Foster to discuss his request. Alderman Jacobs, during the workshop, said he felt the issue should be brought out in the open. "I think there was some question on the city's part if we truly did have an arrangement. This issue seemed to keep brewing. To keep it from turning into a political football, we ought to bring it out in the open and deal with it publicly the way it should be dealt with," said Jacobs.
Alderman Jacobs also asked city attorney Vester Parsley, Jr. whether it was legal for the city to treat the leachate.
In response, Parsley said the city's current sewer use ordinance does give the city that authority." In looking at the ordinance that we passed in 2002, we have the capability of treating things that are brought in under certain circumstances as long as it is not contaminated with something that would cause problems to our sewer system. Its not an issue about something we couldn't treat," he said
"We can't give water away. Are we legally required to charge?. Can we legally treat leachate without charging for it?," asked Jacobs.
"Under section 7.1 of the (ordinance) surcharges, it says that the city council may adjust or vary the various rates and or formulas at its discretion," said Parsley. "So the city council has the discretion of what charge you make. There is a formula in here about the treatment but the city council can adjust that or say we're not going to charge anything if they chose to," he said.
"My concern is the water and sewer fund has to be self supporting," said Jacobs. " It has nothing to do with city taxes. Any money that the city might pay as a tipping fee at the landfill. That's city tax money. But the water and sewer fund comes out of a different pot. My concern is that we're being fair to our ratepayers. Are we making them subsidize the landfill?," asked Alderman Jacobs.
Sewer plant operator Bobby Pinegar said that the city treats about one million gallons of waste water per day. Foster pointed out that the amount of landfill leachate being hauled to the sewer plant in a year's time is relatively small and has been decreasing compared to what the city treats overall in a year. He said it should not be a significant expense. "Your total amount of chemicals to treat 365 million gallons (for the year's sewer plant operation) is $35,000 budgeted and actual expense. We're (county) hauling 3.88 million gallons," said Foster. "Last year, we probably hauled maybe 25% or 30% of what we hauled the year before. It was much less. Its going down as the landfill gets full. But there's always going to be some leachate. I think we brought you all 3.88 million gallons last year which was roughly 700 truck loads. There's been months when we first opened that when we probably hauled 700 truck loads that month. If we're hauling 2% of what you'll haul (treat) that would be $700 worth of chemicals. If we're hauling 10% it'd be $3,500. But your total amount of chemicals to treat 365 million gallons is $35,000," said Foster
Mayor Hendrixson said according to city records, "In 2009, I think you had 1,667 truck loads. In 2010 you had 798. This year so far through September you've had 795. I think it'll be up this year over last year, but not as much as 2009," said Mayor Hendrixson.
County attorney Hilton Conger inquired about the city's treatment costs at the waste water plant.
Hunter Hendrixson, the city's secretary/treasurer, said while no up to date figures are available, the city's engineering firm provided a formula to go by in 2006." Our engineering company, Wauford gave us a formula on what it costs per thousand gallons. In 2006, it was around 78.8 cents per thousand gallons. If you round it up, for ten million gallons, that would be eight thousand dollars. It may be more now. We may need them to come in and have them re-do that and see what it is today," said Hendrixson.
Mayor Hendrixson said Wauford would be contacted to figure what the city's costs are today. "What our board needs to do is come up with a solution, whether to charge nothing or charge so much, or charge for chemicals or whatever you want to do. It'd be my suggestion to ask our engineering company to determine what is our cost now per one thousand gallons to treat that, and then for the board to make its decision," said Mayor Hendrixson.
Meanwhile, the issue of whether the city should pay the county for the disposal of city garbage in the landfill also remains unresolved.
Up until August 2008, the city paid the fees ($25.00 per ton) but neither city nor county officials have been able to locate a written agreement on the arrangement. County Mayor Foster said the city and county should go about "finding an arrangement about garbage, since its been done (city paying fees to county) since the 1970's".
Mayor Hendrixson disagreed saying "I still have a problem with the city having to pay anything as county residents to put their household garbage in that landfill".
Foster pointed out that the county receives no property tax money for the operation of the landfill. It's an enterprise fund, he said, made up of revenues derived from payment-in-lieu of taxes, local option sales taxes, hotel-motel tax, bank excise tax, and the wholesale beer tax, etc.
Mayor Hendrixson responded that those funds were also county monies.
The new landfill cell, Foster said, is expected to last less than two more years. In the meantime, the county is looking at going to a transfer station in the future, he added.
(NOTE: The top picture shows the newest landfill cell shortly after it opened in 2009. The water seen in the photo is leachate. According to County Mayor Foster, at the base of the cell is five feet of compacted clay with a geo-technical cloth on top, then another foot of clay, pipes which are used to catch the leachate, and at the top is a foot of septic tank gravel. The water that drains into the pipes is pumped to a tank (storage facility) at the top of the hill and from there, tanker trucks are loaded with the water (leachate) and hauled to the Smithville wastewater treatment plant)