MILLERSBURG -- Bringing a virtual end to years of woes -- operational, financial and environmental -- 2012 saw the official closure of the Holmes County landfill.
Determined to be the lowest and best bidder, Ryan Incorporated Central of Janesville, Wis., was contracted by the Holmes County commissioners, and started work in March. The project was completed in late June, well in advance of the Nov. 1 deadline, according to Commissioner Joe Miller.
Despite early debate about the wisdom of planting grass in the midst of a drought, seeding was followed by rain, and "I'm very happy with how the grass came in," said Miller.
And, following springtime reseeding of just a few patches from which the seeding was washed away by rain, all the work will be completed and paid for.
To discuss future use of the land -- 256 acres, only 20 of which were landfill -- is yet a little premature, said Miller, who sees tackling that matter in another year or two.
"We will talk to the (Holmes County) Park District, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the (Ohio) Environmental Protection Agency," he said, noting whatever is done, the land will remain green space and "we don't want to sell anything off because we have to monitor it for 30 years."
Seeing the landfill capped and closed, Miller said, "was like a dark cloud left us. It was the hardest thing I've worked on. It's a lot more fun being here (without having to regularly deal with the landfill). My first eight years in office, there was not a week we didn't have a problem to deal with at the landfill."
It was a project, plagued nearly from its inception, which has passed through the hands of many boards of county commissioners.
Now, Miller said, "it's a beautiful place to go. What used to be our worst nightmare is a really nice place. I go out a lot. I think it's the most peaceful place. If anyone wants to see it, I will take them there. It's worth seeing."
Operations at the landfill slowed years ago when lack of funding forced the operator of the Holmes County landfill to abandon plans to expand and continue operations.
In December 2010, the commissioners entered into negotiations with Rumpke of Northern Ohio, which proposed remedying the landfill's problems by restoring operations.
And, so was the plan, when halfway through the year, Miller and Commissioner Rob Ault were invited to meet with a group of more than 30 neighbors to the landfill.
The residents said they were turned off by the associated smell, excess traffic on small township roads and noise from operations. They also expressed concern about the long-term environmental health of the area and the value of their own property.
While the commissioners suggested they were sympathetic to the crowd, they said there appeared to be no real viable option for the county to finance the $6 million-$10 million cost of closure and post-closure monitoring for 30 years.
However, it was neighbor's opposition coupled with a legal issue, primarily a deed restriction, that ultimately prohibited the county from contracting with a new operator.
"We work for (the residents). We listened to them and heard them. No one wants a landfill in their neighborhood," Miller said.
It forced review of the cost of closure and revealed a surprising result, including an engineer's estimate far below -- well within reach -- the original cost that had been presented to commissioners.
In November 2011, the commissioners authorized the sale of bonds totaling $2.6 million for that purpose.
The bonds will be paid off through the generation fees generated by solid waste produced inside the county, which was increased from $7 to $9 per ton of waste, with $4 going toward the bonds. The generation fees also will be used to fund the mandatory 30 year period of post-closure monitoring. An average household in Holmes County produces about one ton of waste annually.
In January 2012, the commissioners accepted the bid from Ryan. The $2.18 million contract included not only capping the landfill, but an alternate to dredge the sediment pond.
Ryan was one of two low bidders, from among 13 contractors who submitted bids to close the troubled landfill. And, although not the lowest bid, Miller said they opted to take Ryan's bid because "that's all they do ... landfills. They do 70 landfills a year. They build them and they close them."
In May 2009, the Holmes County Board of Health shut down landfill operations, prohibiting further acceptance of waste and recyclables, until operator World Resources Land Management effectively addressed issues arising from violation of height limitations and daily coverage.
It was the second time in a year the board ordered cessation of operations there. Previous problems with manpower, management, equipment, windblown litter and leachate breakout led to 19 permit violations that in May 2008 caused the landfill to be closed.
World Resources was in the process of seeking Ohio Environmental Protection Agency permission to expand the landfill at the time the orders were issued. That request, along with compliance with the health board orders, was complicated by an EPA observation the company had failed to permanently close and cap an older area of the landfill.
An April 2009 health inspection revealed multiple leachate breakouts, and it was discovered the property was not being staffed and most of the heavy equipment removed from the site. Shortly thereafter, company president Frank Lasky wrote to inform the county his business was no longer able to satisfy the terms of a 30-year contract, signed in 2001, because it has "exhausted all of its funds."
"This is the county that I love. This is the county that the commissioners live in," said Miller, noting because the OEPA will not issue new landfill permits, "Holmes County will never have another landfill.
"I feel very, very good the thing is buttoned up very nicely," he said.
Reporter Christine L. Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or by email at email@example.com.
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