Residents fight landfill expansion

Austin American-Statesman
Marty Toohey

BFI and Travis County officials are working toward compromise, but neighbors are still wary. It was the second time in five weeks that the residents encouraged the Travis County Commissioners Court to oppose any expansion of the landfill.

About 35 residents met at the Travis County Exposition Center with representatives from BFI Waste Systems of North America Inc. to hear about the company’s plans to expand its Sunset Farms landfill off U.S. 290 just east of Austin. The company outlined a proposal in which it would cut back its expansion plans, be legally bound to close the landfill by November 2015 and pursue a new location in the meantime.

“We want to be gone,” Heath Eddleblute, the company’s district manager, told the residents. “We want to move to a different site. . . . We just need a little more time.”

The expansion, he said, would give the company the six to 12 years it says it needs to find and open a new Travis County landfill. The landfill currently is on pace to fill up in about five years, he said. If the compromise developed with county officials is approved as drafted, “We would have to be out (of Sunset Farms) by November of 2015 at the absolute latest,” Eddleblute said.

But residents who have fought for years to close BFI’s landfill and a neighboring landfill run by Waste Management of Texas Inc. said the proposed agreement would be flawed. They said BFI would exploit those flaws and might not leave by 2015.

“I think your problem is credibility,” said Mauricio Childress-Usher, who lives near the landfill.

He and others say odors, windblown trash and other problems persist. BFI says those problems have been corrected. If the company pursues expansion, residents and the county could oppose it, with the final say falling to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The county, hoping to broker a compromise, has been trying to create a contract with BFI under which the company would have to meet certain expectations, such as a guaranteed closing date. In exchange, the county would not oppose the expansion.

The county could also offer incentives such as condemnation to help BFI find a new site away from neighborhoods (although Gov. Rick Perry has asked the Legislature to pass a law barring the use of condemnation to convert private land to another private use).

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, who attended Saturday’s meeting, said residents made legitimate points that should be addressed. He said he wasn’t surprised residents opposed landfill expansion. But he added that Travis County’s garbage has to go somewhere and that he had to keep in mind not only the neighbors but everyone else in the county. He and Eddleblute said they would continue to work on a contract.

Saturday’s meeting followed one on June 4 when about 125 residents voiced unanimous opposition to any compromise with BFI.