Juneau's Wasteland

Landfill odor leaves some Lemon Creek residents with a sour taste in their mouths

Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2007

Living around the penetrating odor of rotting garbage has become routine for Connie Arthur.

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After three years of living in the Creekside Trailer Park in Lemon Creek, the smells drifting from the nearby landfill have only gotten worse, she said.

"There's just nothing I can do about the smell being there," Arthur said. "It's bad."

Arthur said she is stuck because she can't afford to move to a new neighborhood.

"It stinks, just that," she said. "It does stink."

The rising pile of trash has grabbed the attention of both citizens and city officials.

The city is expecting to sign a $70,000 contract with a consultant group in coming days to get advice on solid waste management in Juneau and how to deal with it in the future, special projects officer Maria Gladziszewski said.

"The last time it worked on this in a big way, in a sort of citywide way, was in the early '90s, and this is another attempt," she said.

The consultants are expected to visit Juneau at the end of this month to begin meeting with garbage haulers, city officials, hazardous waste disposal specialists and others who deal with the city's sanitation needs.

"The first phase is to figure out what is going on - what has gone on," Gladziszewski said.

A public meeting on the future of the city's solid waste management will take place in June and another will be held in September. The consulting group is expected to submit its findings to the Assembly by the end of November.

Solutions can't come soon enough for people who have to put up with the stench.

"I guess my concern is it's wintertime and it's cold right now, and what is it going to be like in the summer because they don't burn the trash anymore," said Karin Massey. The odor is often noticeable even just driving through Lemon Creek, she said. Massey contends that the smell of the dump is even evident along Egan Drive between Vanderbilt Hill Road and Sunny Drive.

"The smell is so strong and overwhelming, it is awful," she said.

Meanwhile, the landfill will continue to grow to its legally permitted height, said Eric Vance, site manager of the Capital Disposal landfill.

"The majority of the landfill will be filled to 80 feet and there will be a peak in the center that will be as high as 120 feet," he said. The landfill presently towers to nearly 70 feet.Gladziszewski said the consultants and a small committee will work together on identifying possible solid waste management techniques, including recycling, incinerating garbage, or potentially creating a regional landfill authority.

"We feel we have a responsibility to examine all of this," she said.

Mayor Bruce Botelho said the Assembly is looking to the consultants to advise the city on what the realistic alternatives are for dealing with Juneau's waste.

"I don't think there is any one answer," he said. "There may be one that emerges as more realistic than another, more affordable than another, more comprehensive than another."

The Assembly, at its regular meeting Monday night, will consider a resolution to join a national movement dubbed the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. Looking at the future of the city's solid waste management is one part of addressing global climate change, Botelho said.

"I think its part of a larger picture in terms of Juneau's sustainability - how we deal with our waste stream, how we use energy in Juneau, how we can actually save it," he said. "Those livability issues are going to be fairly front and center in the coming years."

Concerns have been building since the privately owned Capital Disposal landfill in Lemon Creek shut down its incinerator and stopped burning garbage in June of 2004 because of economical and environmental considerations.

Vance said they are continuing to work on ways of minimizing the smell.

"We have a passive landfill extraction system currently," he said. "Once we have sufficient volumes of gas to operate a flare, we will transform that passive system to an active system to burn the gas that is produced in the landfill."

A series of perforated pipes with horizontal or vertical lines run through the waste, and a vacuum is used to extract the gas, primarily methane, which is then burned by a propane induced flame, Vance said.

The gas is presently burned intermittently. It would burn around the clock if enough gas is produced, he said.

Approximately 30,000 tons of garbage goes into the landfill each year, Vance said. An additional 1,300 tons is recycled, he said.

"We do yearly GPS flyovers, and we currently have about 30 years of life expectancy at the current volumes here at the landfill," Vance said.

Hopefully the consultants will help the city and private sector come up with more options, he said.

Several years ago, the city identified two potential landfill sites back in the Lemon Creek area behind the state prison, Gladziszewski said. The city is also looking at the potential benefits of joining forces for a regional landfill, she said.

"Already the communities in Southeast Alaska ship south about 23,000 tons a year," she said.

In 2006, the communities of Craig, Ketchikan, Klawock, Petersburg, Sitka, and Wrangell shipped 24,300 tons of garbage south at a cost of $2.3 million.

Executive Director Murray Walsh said the Southeast Conference has drafted a report on municipal solid waste disposal alternatives for the region.

Several communities - including Petersburg, Wrangell, Thorne Bay, Kake and Sitka - have expressed interest in housing a regional landfill, Walsh said. The Legislature passed a law in 2006 that provides a means for two or more cities to jointly create a regional solid waste management authority.

"For the well being of society, proper management of solid waste ... is something we should take seriously," Walsh said.

Massey said she hopes the city and landfill operators find a solution in the near future.

"My goodness, we've been having temperatures in the teens and the smell is still really strong," she said. "I just want them to get a handle on this before summer comes."

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com

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