News

Linn County's landfill has 25 years left, so what's next?

Solid Waste Agency's director says expanding landfill is best option

Birds fly overhead at the landfill at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency in Marion on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Birds fly overhead at the landfill at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency in Marion on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
/

MARION — As Linn County’s landfill reaches capacity and leaders seek options, expanding the current site is the best and economical choice, the landfill’s executive director says.

Landfilling is the cheapest way to safely manage waste, said Karmin McShane, the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency’s executive director. The agency plans to approach the Marion City Council this year about expanding the landfill on County Home Road to increase its longevity.

If the landfill isn’t expanded, the agency will begin hauling garbage out of the county or even out of the state in 25 years. A fifth cell, which will be built in the next two years, will ensure the landfill’s air capacity until 2044. A sixth cell, which the agency says there is room for, will need to be approved by the Marion City Council, and would ensure the landfill’s viability through 2070.

The agency is not looking at alternative sites for a landfill, hopeful that there will be another solution for disposing of solid waste in the future.

“We don’t want to plan for a landfill 25 years from now because you hope it’ll be something else,” McShane said, adding that it takes about 10 years to prepare a new site for a landfill.

The agency’s board of directors plans to present a proposal to the council later this year and will provide Marion a financial incentive for approving a sixth cell. Adding a fifth cell was a part of a settlement agreement between the city and agency in 2006.

Even as the landfill reaches its capacity date, McShane says landfilling still is the best option for Linn County, and the most inexpensive option for residents.

Why not burn trash?

Cost is one of the biggest challenges when finding alternative options to landfilling.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

If Linn County built a burn facility, it would still have to sort and process trash — which takes time and money — and would require a hazardous landfill for the ash.

“When you’re talking about $100 million to build a new (burn) facility, how is that funded? And what if it doesn’t work?” McShane said.

Landfilling requires less preprocessing than other alternatives, she said.

The agency could burn its recyclables, McShane said, but it is already processing those at the Resource Recovery Building where household materials like paper, plastic, glass, metal, cardboard, electronics, appliances, tires, batteries, bulbs and clothing are accepted.

On an average summer Saturday, between 500 and 700 people come to the recycling center, McShane said.

“It’s clearly something folks use and want. Where would all that go if we weren’t here?” she said.

In Minneapolis, residents pay over $100 a ton at the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, where garbage is burned to create energy.

However, Minnesota also is the largest exporter of garbage to Iowa because residents there who don’t want to pay high prices bring their trash to landfills over state lines, McShane said.

The Linn County Solid Waste Agency is able to subsidize its recycling and composting program with the money it makes from the landfill. It also helps finance a full-time educator and a recreational coordinator.

‘Not in my backyard’

When the Solid Waste Agency formed in 1994, leaders began researching viable landfill locations, which were called the “13 sites,” said McShane, who joined the agency in 2001.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“There was a ton of opposition,” she said. “The cities said ‘Let’s put it in the country.’ The rural folks said, ‘Not in our backyard.’”

During that time, Linn County passed zoning laws to protect prime agricultural land. That eliminated 12 of the sites the agency identified.

The 13th site, called the Hennessy Site, was an old quarry on Otis Road in Cedar Rapids. It was also eliminated after the Federal Government passed Air 21, requiring landfills be a certain distance from airports because of the increased risk of planes striking birds.

That’s when the Solid Waste Agency approached the Marion City Council about the already-established landfill on County Home Road, leading to the settlement agreement in 2006.

No new sites have been identified since, McShane said.

‘State of the art’ landfills

McShane said when people think of landfills, they often picture 1990s facilities that were not regulated.

Today, sanitary landfills are “state of the art,” she said, lined and monitored to control waste. Three fences serve as barriers to catch trash if it is blown away, and employees recollect that trash daily.

Employees at the Solid Waste Agency joke that they are not the ones creating garbage. They’re the ones taking care of it.

“We’re responsibly handling your garbage,” McShane said. “It’s easy to take for granted, but when your garbage hits the curb, it’s out of sight, out of mind, don’t care where it goes, except for the folks who live here.”

Landfill inhibiting growth?

Critics of the landfill say expansion is bad for Marion.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Paul Draper, Marion City Council member who was reelected last week, said expanding the landfill further inhibits Marion’s ability to grow north, “which we desperately need to have because it’s really our last growth area,” he said on election night.

John Nieland, a former Marion mayor, also staunchly opposes expanding the landfill, voicing concern for Marion residents who live in its vicinity.

“The only way we can move is north,” he said.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.