(This story was updated at 1 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to reflect corrections to show attribution to Davis, not Knight, in some paragraphs to correct the name of the landfill as Pineview, not Pineville in one paragraph; and to show the savings at the county's solid waste operations in recent years is $500,000 a year, not $500,000.)
Republic Service's Pineview Landfill in Dora is set to close in 2025, which is likely to increase garbage rates for municipal and Walker County garbage customers, as well as wipe out Christmas bonuses for county workers.
"There are consequences to every citizen of Walker County if this landfill closes," District 1 Walker County Commissioner Keith Davis said at Monday's commission meeting.
However, commissioners are hoping that negotiations can still find a way to keep the landfill open.
A letter from Republic Services on Sept. 26 gave official notice to the commission about the closure, although county officials have known of the situation for years. The letter was read at Monday's meeting by County Attorney Eddie Jackson.
Commissioners indicated they held off releasing the letter thinking successful last-minute negotiations would make the matter moot. However, negotiations stalled.
Currently, the county has a construction and demolition, or C&D landfill, for debris west of Jasper. However, regular household and commercial garbage is only accepted at a transfer station there, and that is then transported to the Dora landfill. Pineview is licensed as a Subtitle D landfill that can take household garbage. No hazardous waste is dumped at either site.
Pat George, the general manager of Republic Services, wrote to commissioners on Sept. 26 that the Dora landfill, located at 2730 Bryan Road, would close on June 28, 2025.
"At that time, Pineview will enter into a post-closure phase and will no longer accept any solid waste for disposal," George wrote. "The Pineview team will work with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to maintain the site for an additional 30 years after closure. This care will include continued groundwater monitoring, leachate management, and compliance reporting until such time the ADEM approves the site for final closure."
George said Pineview has served local residents and businesses since 1995. The landfill employs 15 full-time employees and supports 82 direct and indirect jobs in the county, as well as paying $377,000 in annual taxes. It provides free disposal to residents at a value of $851,000 per year. The landfill makes $4.4 million in direct and indirect purchases from local businesses, and has paid the county more than $5 million in host fees since opening.
The landfill has a $7.1 million annual economic impact on Walker County and the surrounding region, he said.
"Once the landfill closes, these benefits to the county will cease," he wrote.
He said at the current disposal volumes, Pineview Landfill has capacity to continue accepting waste for an additional 40 years.
"Despite that capacity, the June 28, 2025, closure date is required by a Consent Decree entered in 1995 that resolved class action litigation against the county and against the landfill," George wrote. "That Consent Decree can be modified by the agreement of several parties. however."
George wrote the commission and the county's Solid Waste Authority must pass a resolution to amend the consent decree, and Republic must agree, according to the letter. Two of the three class action plaintiffs currently living in the county must also formally agree to amend the decree to extend the closure date, or the Citizens Advisory Committee recognized by the decree could give formal agreement.
"It is not clear whether this organization (the committee) is currently active," nor if it was led by one of the class action plaintiffs when it was last active, George said.
"If these parties agree to support the required amendment of the Consent Decree, and the necessary papers are filed in court, the consent decree provision requiring closure will be amended, and Pineview Landfill can remain open past June 28, 2025, to continue serving residents and businesses across Walker County and the region. Unless and until those actions are taken, Pineview Landfill will move forward with closure as currently planned," he said.
George, who was apparently not at Monday's meeting, invited commissioners to reach out to him for questions and comments.
At Monday's meeting, Jackson said this has been discussed over the years as Pineview has talked of adding counties for service. Jackson noted he has noted checked any accuracy of the figures mentioned in the letter "but we know it is not free, and the county and its citizens have obtained certain benefits from its relationship with Pineview."
Jackson explained that a "groundswell of protest" against the landfill's location by local residents in the 1990s. A class action lawsuit that was broad enough to cover all the residents of Walker County was filed.
The settlement of that lawsuit in 1995 resulted in the decree, which called for the creation of a citizens committee of county residents, which would have an active role in monitoring what goes on at the landfill and hold meetings to see if the consent decree was carried out as planned. Jackson said it would be premature to say to the extent of who is left in that citizens group.
Jackson said the letter's role is to put the county on notice to find somewhere else to dispose of its waste if the landfill closes.
"We do have quite a bit of free service associated with the landfill located in our county. That is a value, as well as our host fees," he said. "It covers everyone in the county."
Jackson said there is a sizable amount of land still left at the landfill, and enlarging the service area might generate more money for the county, Jackson said, although it "might shorten the life of the landfill from 40 to 30 years, or something like that."
District 4 Commissioner Stephen Aderholt, whose district has the landfill, asked County Engineer Mike Short for a total economic impact report for the county and municipalities on the landfill.
Jackson noted the George's letter "doesn't even touch on what it would cost John Doe and Walker County if they close that landfill in 2025." Aderholt speculated on paying "hundreds of thousands more per year" as free disposal would be gone, and the cost would be passed on to residents.
"It's going to cost us 50 to 75 percent more to transfer our garbage to another facility," Chairman Jerry Bishop said. "That's why we need to start looking now," Jackson said. "We've already talked to some about it," Bishop said..
Commissioners talked about possibly putting together a commission subcommittee to look into the situation, although Jackson warned it would still be subjected to the state's Open Meeting Laws when it sits down.
Davis said the commission would try to absorb increased cost as much as possible, noting Walker County Solid Waste is being run to break even. Commissioners noted recently 6,500 total customers are served by the county. More than $500,000 a year, or a total of $3.5 million, has been saved in the department in recent years, Davis said.
He also noted that a legislative act calls for $250,000 in tipping fees goes to the county each year for a Christmas bonus each year for county employees, in the form of one-time pay increases that is often used to purchase toys and clothes for their families children.
"That $250,000 from Republic would go away if this landfill closes," he said, later adding. "That is a major thing for us. That is a major thing for them. This is serious on a lot of levels. I know Mr. Aderholt has been working behind the scene on this for years," as have other parties. "I feel this is a huge economic impact to the county's budget and to the county citizens and to the county employees, also."
Davis said Republic has to start planning now for any closing five years from now. "They have got to start planning today and they already are what their contingency plans are," he said.
He said municipalities will also have to examine how they will be affected on garbage collections.
Commissioners indicated after the meeting they still did not have many details. Davis was eager for commissioners to learn from Republic what has held up negotiations to date and what can be done. Aderholt said he was hopeful in having some meetings later in the week.
"I'm not sure anything can be done," Davis said during the meeting, but emphasized commissioners would do all they could to help negotiations to keep the landfill open.
Aderholt said after the meeting closing the landfill could have a "significant impact on the county budget," agreeing the holiday bonuses could go away. He also noted many people in East Walker go directly to the landfill on a regular basis, and that use would end.
"Sumiton and Dora have the same deal as we have," he said, adding there are "too many variables to nail down what the impact is going to be so I am cautious in saying what could or could not happen. It is negative."