EPA Rep Offering Landfill Info to S.E. Colorado Towns


Group Meeting on Landfill Issues


Patrick Davis, Senior Advisor to the Regional Administrator for Public Engagement of the Environmental Protection Agency, met Tuesday with representatives from various towns in southeast Colorado as well as the Prowers County Commissioners. The meeting was called to offer some insights to the on-going problems associated with the attempts of small rural communities to comply with landfill regulations mandated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Davis prefaced the meeting by relating some history between the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, CDPHE, “In 1976, Congress, through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, direction to the EPA to build a framework for handling solid waste materials and the EPA later outsourced the authority to the states to manage landfills. In Colorado, that responsibility was handed to the CDPHE.  The EPA will assist the CDPHE in meeting those goals for the small landfills in rural Colorado.”

Davis explained that the CDPHE is currently paying to sink 60 monitoring wells in 15 communities to test for groundwater contamination. Four other counties have decided to close their landfills at this time.  The water tests will be conducted in the spring and the results will be available in the fall of 2018.  “If contamination is found, then a plan has to be enacted on the site to remediate the water problem or close the landfill,” he explained, adding that if the tests show contamination the EPA will work with town officials on how to prevent a spread into the drinking water systems and how to prevent it from happening in another area.  $1.6 million has been allocated by the state legislature to pay for landfill closures and monitoring wells.  “We’re negotiating with contractors and engineers on the costs and a community can change their minds on closing a landfill up until we’ve made final negotiations on the project,” the CDPHE explained.

Commissioner Wendy Buxton-Andrade asked about financial help for towns that can’t afford to stay open without some outside assistance. Davis replied that the USDA and EPA offers grants, usually with matching fund requirements, and a new list of sources can be made available.  The EPA also offers technical assistance if there’s a need to determine what kind of contamination has occurred and how best to handle the problem. He recounted how a contaminant called PFOA has been discovered in Fountain, probably originating from the Peterson Air Force Base.  It’s found in rocket fuel extinguishers as well as a compound for making Teflon.  The EPA is assisting in determining the spread of the compound into ground water.

Davis explained that some other states such as Kansas, are developing transfer stations to serve several small communities in a five or six county region. Buxton-Andrade explained that type of venture would be costly, especially in light of transportation costs and although Lamar has been discussed as a potential site, nothing has been planned on that score.  She and other town representatives are concerned that illegal dumping could develop from a closed landfill where residents just toss out their trash in some open areas away from a town.  She felt the best general option would be to assist the towns keep their landfills open and see if there could be a way to finance the operations while adhering to ‘common sense’ guidelines.  “You have grants to help with closing costs, but is there anything available to help with keeping them open,” she asked.

Pat Mason, Lamar’s Public Works Director, said Lamar is struggling to keep up with the current waste load, in excess of 20 tons of waste per day, which is the cut-off point to determine a small landfill site such as Granada’s. Mason said a landfill liner, such as the one installed in 1989, is costly.  “We are required to pay the full price on everything, including costly groundwater tests,” he explained and said that’s hard to understand when there are other landfills just 30 miles away which don’t have to bear those costs.  He asked if there were any waivers which could help with the costs the City of Lamar has to pay.

The CDPHE replied to a general question on clay liners, that if there is a leak the test wells will show that and a liner will be required if the landfill stays open. If there is no contaminant found, then the landfill can operate without a liner only as long as there is no problem.  An evaluation on the groundwater is made every five years.

One representative asked that if a landfill was closed, could it still be used for organic refuse such as tree limbs? The CDPHE explained that the property could be repurposed and with an air-quality permit, periodic burns would be allowed to clear the area.  Closed landfills can also be used to store cement or asphalt to be used as riprap for bridge abutment or embankments.  The problem is that even though a landfill is closed, residents still will come and dump their refuse.  They explained the costs of preventing that would fall to a community.

Davis said a regional transfer station may be a doable solution, based on some cost studies and a reasonable fee for hauling the materials. He said sending waste to current operations could be helped through recycling funds or for grants for uses associated with transfer stations such as parking areas or storage containers for the waste materials.  He recommended the commissioners for towns contact Sally Clark, the new director for USDA loans in Colorado and invite her to a meeting to explore financing for future projects.

By Russ Baldwin


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