Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:55 PM on Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Where will all the waste go?

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Bald eagles fly around a fresh pile of waste as a truck unloads more compressed bales of trash at the Homer Landfill this week.

Where do Homer residents gather on Sundays? Ask Jim Norcross.

After 15 years working at the Homer Baling-Landfill Facility, Norcross, the facility's superintendent and site manager, knows exactly where residents congregate on Sunday: the landfill.

"During the four hours we're open on Sunday, we see more people than we do any other day of the week," said Norcross.

From Sunday through Saturday, a steady stream of vehicles delivers the leftovers of life at the end of the Kenai Peninsula: municipal solid waste, which is predominantly household waste; construction, demolition and land-clearing waste; the city's wastewater treatment plant sludge; and recyclables.

Visions of the landfill as a popular gathering place were not evident when the Kenai Peninsula Borough announced in 1978 plans to locate a waste disposal site at the top of Baycrest Hill. Letters to the editor and testimony at public meetings were critical of a site prone to "gale force winds" that would spread debris and the smell of garbage and create an eyesore. It was characterized as "a tragic misuse of public land." A petition with more than 75 signatures requested the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation hold a public hearing on the permitting process.

In 1979, the Homer Landfill opened. Four years later it became a baling-landfill facility.

"It was just an open landfill in 1979, and then by putting in a baler it allowed much better compaction, which creates more efficient use of space, it helps with windblown litter, it helps by keeping those bales very tight and not letting precipitation percolate through the trash. It also allowed us to bale recyclables and ship them," said Jack Maryott, the borough's solid waste director.

Although people can drop off household waste at the dump without paying fees, citizens do pay for waste disposal through taxes.

Homer Baling-Landfill Facility

1979: Homer Landfill Facility established.

1983: Homer landfill converted to a baling-landfill facility.

90 acres: The size of the site, with 15-18 acres used for landfill operations.

8,000 tons: Amount of waste accepted annually, including material brought from transfer sites in Anchor Point and McNeil Canyon.

20-25: Average number of bales of waste compacted daily, with as many as 40 a day during the summer and as few as 10 on winter days.

2,000 pounds or 1 ton: The weight of each bale of waste, measuring 2.5-feet-by-3.5-feet-by-4.5-feet.

$1.1 million: Homer Baling-Landfill Facility budget for fiscal year 2011.

$31,508: Fees collected for commercial and demolition waste disposal.

4: Full-time employees.

In 1993 the borough began charging for disposal of such items as construction-demolition and land-clearing waste, junk vehicles and tires.

On Aug. 6, 2013, the DEC solid waste disposal permit under which the facility operates will expire. A groundwater monitoring program has identified the need for corrective action and the borough and state have agreed the appropriate action is closure of the landfill.

That doesn't mean Homer's popular gathering place is shutting down, but it is in for a change.

"The Homer site will not close," Maryott said.

He described a process similar to what has been done at sites in Seward and Kenai-Nikiski:

• The site will become an inert waste landfill, meaning it will accept materials from construction demolition and have enough room for an estimated 20 years of use.

• A transfer station will be constructed so trash will be transferred for burial at the Central Peninsula Landfill in Soldotna. In the early 1990s, the Soldotna landfill was designated the borough's regional landfill. According to Maryott, it currently services approximately 75 percent of the borough population; with the addition of Homer, it will be servicing 98 percent. It has a capacity for approximately 25-30 more years, said Maryott.

• A procedure to close out the household waste portion of the landfill will be put in place.

In 2010, with the expiration of the DEC permit on the horizon, Borough Mayor David Carey introduced a resolution that, with the nine-member borough assembly's unanimous approval, made the Homer Transfer Facility project the leading solid waste capital project for fiscal year 2012.

The project also tops the borough's recently finalized list of capital priorities for 2011.

Ordinance 2009-19 approved $323,736 to design a new facility and to develop a complete construction and equipment cost estimate.

Each of the four proposals received for the design and cost estimates exceeded the appropriated amount.

It was rebid with a narrower scope and CH2M Hill had the winning bid. According to that firm's estimates, designing a new facility and developing the construction and equipment cost estimates will run $614,736, with the total project costing as much as $12 million.

"That would include highway improvements with an acceleration and deceleration lane and turn pockets, site development, an access road, the transfer building and the cost associated with constructing it," said Maryott.

"Those are the primary improvements that would be included."

An ordinance appropriating enough funding — $291,000 — to complete the design and construction cost estimate is scheduled for public hearing when the borough assembly meets in Soldotna Feb. 1.

Recently, Carey said it was possible the borough could tap into its $19 million fund balance to help pay for construction of the transfer facility.

He has plans to travel to Juneau next month and lobby for state assistance for the project.

"Education is our number one priority and solid waste, spending-wise, is our number two," Carey said at the time.

Asked if there are options to Homer sending its waste to the central peninsula, Maryott said that would be discussed at a public meeting being planned for Homer in late January or February.

"In terms of transferring municipal solid waste (from Homer), that's pretty much a done deal. I'll go into detail in the meeting on those issues," said Maryott. "Realistically, is there space in Homer to site a landfill? That's a major problem. I don't think that would happen."

Recycling also will be a topic of discussion at the meeting.

"Your recycling opportunities certainly are not going to be less with a transfer station," said Maryott. "There may be some new opportunities, but it all costs money."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.