Government

Linn County landfill has only 25-year capacity left

Agency says there's an incentive if Marion approves expansion

Garbage trucks unload Thursday at the landfill at the Linn County Solid Waste Agency in Marion. The agency expects to ask the Marion City Council to approve an expansion of the dump — but one that would extend its life only about 50 years. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Garbage trucks unload Thursday at the landfill at the Linn County Solid Waste Agency in Marion. The agency expects to ask the Marion City Council to approve an expansion of the dump — but one that would extend its life only about 50 years. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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MARION — If Linn County’s landfill isn’t expanded beyond what’s already planned, the Solid Waste Agency will need to begin hauling garbage out of the county or even out of state 25 years from now, possibly putting a few dozen jobs at risk and pushing up customer’s garbage rates.

The Solid Waste Agency landfill in Marion has space left until about 2044, which includes plans to build a fifth cell — a 20-year capacity — within the next two years. While there is room to build a sixth cell, that decision will need to be approved by the Marion City Council. And even with it, the life of the landfill would go only through 2070.

The Solid Waste Agency’s board of directors plans to present a proposal to the council in November that would provide the city a financial incentive for approving a sixth cell. Adding a fifth cell already was part of a settlement between the city and the agency in 2006.

Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson, who is chairman of the Solid Waste Agency, said the 20-acre fifth cell will be constructed differently if a sixth cell is approved. While constructing cell five, cell six would also be prepped for future expansion, Oleson said.

“We’re up against a choice. We need that decision because it will affect 20 years of stable rates for businesses and consumers from 2024 to 2070,” Oleson said.

An original 30-acre cell at the landfill was first used when it opened in 1972. The agency’s footprint at the landfill now is about 360 acres.

The settlement agreement between the city and the agency reopened the Marion landfill after Mount Trashmore in Cedar Rapids was closed in 2006. The deal held that the final elevation of the landfill would not exceed 914 feet above sea level, and that the setback of the footprint of the landfill from Artesian Road would be 1,800 feet.

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The Iowa Department of Natural Resources allows for landfill setbacks to be 500 feet from its property boundary.

If the current setback does not change, the landfill most likely will become a transfer station once cell five has reached capacity. Garbage would be taken there, put into trailers and hauled to another landfill possibly in another state.

“They would do it cheaply and without the environmental care we take,” Oleson said. “We would become an exporter of trash and not be responsible for our own waste produced in this county. I don’t think that’s very Iowan or very smart.”

Another option would be permitting some other site for a landfill, Oleson said. There are no plans yet to do so.

Garbage collection fees would “most assuredly” go up and as many as 35 positions could be lost if Linn County no longer had an active landfill, he said.

The Solid Waste Agency board is planning to presenting a financial incentive package next month to the Marion City Council in exchange for the approval of a sixth cell.

Oleson said agency officials do not yet know what that incentive package will look like, but they are considering giving Marion a “host fee” of a percentage of all tipping fees — fees paid by haulers that take the garbage from homes to the landfill. It could be in the millions of dollars.

Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said he did not have a comment.

“If and when the council receives a proposal, we will give it consideration as we would any other matter,” AbouAssaly said in an email to The Gazette. “Until such time, it is not possible to know whether the council would approve of any potential proposal.”

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When the settlement agreement was signed more than a decade ago, Marion and the Solid Waste Agency hoped for a more convenient way by now of processing garbage, Oleson said.

Maybe now by 2070, if a sixth cell is permitted, disposing of waste will be different from burying it, Oleson said.

Oleson, who is a Marion resident and lives near the landfill, said he originally was opposed to the landfill being in Marion. When he became a Linn County supervisor, he wanted to be appointed to the Solid Waste Agency board because of his concerns about how the landfill could affect Marion’s future growth.

But he said the Solid Waste Agency has been a “really good neighbor.”

Oleson would like to see businesses build around the landfill, providing a “natural buffer” between it and residential development.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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