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County officials take steps to plug landfill-lagoon issue

The leachate lagoon at the Ashe County Landfill requires costly draining after heavy
rains and snow in January and February have filled the landfill to three times its
normal capacity.

Originally published: Feb. 21, 2013
Last modified: Feb. 21, 2013

Adam Orr

The landfill lagoon at the Ashe County Landfill is filled close to capacity, which necessitates costly draining and transporting, according to Ashe County Environmental Services Director Scott Hurley. 

The landfills leachate — the stormwater that passes through exposed cells — system contains the runoff water and channels it into a large lagoon before recycling it back through the landfill. In essence, the lagoon makes the landfill a closed system that prevents harmful contaminants from seeping into groundwater.

Heavy rains and snow in January and February, however, may have turned the lagoon into a $300,000 problem. 

“With the amount of rain that we have had here (during the past month), we’ve had five to six inches of rain, then snow, and then more rain,” said Hurley, who briefed the Ashe County Board of Commissioners on Monday afternoon. “As this rain falls, it runs into the landfill and it has to go somewhere. It’s got to be collected, we call it leachate, and this flows into our leachate lagoon.” 

The lagoon holds half-a-million gallons of leachate, according to Hurley, and has been full since the first rain the county experienced in January. 

“Since the landfill doesn’t have very much trash in it, with the new cell, all that water collects and recirculates, except there is no trash to collect it,” said Hurley. “So we’ve hired a company out of Winston-Salem to come and haul our leachate, instead of letting this go into any streams.”

At present, he said the company is hauling away approximately 12,000 gallons of leachate per day, which is slowly lowering the lagoon, though Hurley estimates more than 1.5 million gallons need to drained from the landfill, or three times the capacity of the lagoon, and hauling away the leachate is becoming expensive. The 12,000 gallons drained from the system each day cost more than $1,500 for the service. 

“We’ve decided to buy a tanker-trailer,” said Hurley, who made the decision after speaking with Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell and Ashe County Finance Director Sandy Long. “We’ve done that, so we can haul it ourselves and save the county some money, quite a bit of money, actually.”

Hurley said the purchase could save the county as much as $100,000. 

“Once we get that tanker, we can take it to a treatment plant,” said Hurley. “If you do the math, a worst-case scenario of 83 loads, the total cost to empty that leachate lagoon would be $292,000. That’s a lot of money.”

Even figuring in the purchase of the new tank, and hauling the 83 loads by themselves, Hurley said the move would still save the county between $97,000-$100,000. 

Hurley said the county once hauled its leachate to the West Jefferson water treatment facility, but said, “They seem to think there was something in the leachate that was causing some contamination in their facility, so I’m working with the Jefferson treatment plant so we can haul that locally.” 

Mitchell told commissioners they would not need to pass a special budget amendment to deal with the issue, but Ashe County Director of Finance Sandy Long warned commissioners more heavy precipitation could change that. 

“If we have a lot more big rains or snow, we could go over,” said Long, who said current line environmental services line items could be moved to cover the cost. 

In response to a question by Commissioner William Sands, Hurley said anytime you open a new cell, you’ll have water issues. 

“So you expect this to go on (in the future)?” asked Sands. 

“Yes, but it won’t be as bad,” said Hurley, who said the rate leachate soaks through the soil slows as more material is added to the landfill. 

"It's a never ending process, what trash costs us," said Commissioner Larry Rhodes. "Boom. Here is $300,000 just like that."

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.