The Blount County/Maryville/Alcoa Landfill is making strides toward expansion, if slowly.
Alcoa government manages the site and during its Board of Commissioners meeting, leaders approved more than $225,000 in spending to bolster landfill improvement surveys.
These include hydrological studies, a cell investigation and vapor monitoring measures, each to be completed by Strata Environmental.
Local government has worked for years to try and expand the landfill’s Class III cells, used for construction waste.
By the middle of 2021, the only thing preventing expansion work is paperwork.
“We can’t do any of that before (the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) issues the permit,” Solid Waste Manager Kelly Hembree said in a recent interview.
There are two main areas where the landfill is expanding, which Hembree refers to as the “south cell” and the “north cell.”
The north cell is where landfill staff used to have an office.
But expansion needs in recent years pushed them to renovate a house adjacent to the landfill property for new office space.
Though it may not be noticeable to people dropping off materials at the site each day, landfill operations have consolidated to fit daily drop-offs: It’s using everyday waste cells — Class I — for Class III materials.
“Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait,” is how the expansion process feels right now, Hembree said. “As soon as they tell me I can, I’ll be there that day.”
Maybe crews won’t be that quick about it, Hembree added, but she’ll put shovels in the ground as soon as she’s allowed.
“We’re constantly changing,” Hembree said, noting her facility is adapting with the local economic climate as much as any county following the impacts of COVID-19.
With potential upticks in Blount’s population come increased needs for waste processing.
According to data, the landfill saw a 7.6% increase for fiscal 2021 — which ended June 30.
In fiscal 2020, mostly due to the pandemic, it saw an 11% jump, the highest since 2012, data shows.
“It’s definitely growing,” Hembree said. “Of course, you’ve got a lot of people who are cleaning out, but still it is increasing.”
Though use may be increasing, something at the landfill is actually decreasing and has been since late last year: A third party that burned vapors off the landfill using on-site facilities is now gone.
According to Hembree and Alcoa Director of Public Works and Engineering Shane Snoderly, the service picked up and left because they weren’t burning enough fumes to financially justify being at the landfill. Such companies are paid through federal environmental credits that recently ran out because of the low burn volumes.
Now that they’re gone, Alcoa paid to install extra vapor-monitoring sensors for TDEC inspectors to review during their regular visits.
The landfill still doesn’t produce enough vapors to warrant burning them, Hembree and Snoderly said, so the new plan is simply to keep an eye on the situation.