Council to consider remedy for Sugar Hollow landfill

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Recapping the Sugar Hollow Dumpsite is not an option. It is a mandate from the state of Tennessee. Who does it -- and who will pay for it -- is a subject of contention between the City of Elizabethton, the state, and a local company.
   The Elizabethton City Council will consider approval of a consent order that will initiate remediation of the Sugar Hollow site at tonight's council meeting.
   "The (consent order) will permit the city to cap the Sugar Hollow dump site and do it in accordance with an agreed schedule with the state, and do it at the lowest cost to the city," said David Ornduff, city director of Planning and Development.
   If the consent order is approved by the council, Ornduff said the city would enter the Voluntary Cleanup Oversight and Assistance Program (VOAP) to the state to extend remediation of the sight and put a clay cap on the landfill.
   "It was done under the old division of solid waste rules and regulations, and it requires a different and greater depth of clay cap," he said.
   However, attorneys representing a local company feel the city is dumping too great a financial burden for its participation in VOAP that could cut the cost of recapping the site by up to $1 million.
   Attorneys Gary Shockley and Steve Trent, who spoke to the Star on behalf of Mapes Piano Strings Company, cited letters sent to the company offered to contribute just over $46,000 -- including the $5,000 VOAP fee -- to participate in the city's remediation of the landfill.
   Mapes had removed 60 cubic yards of hazardous waste-like material located on the surface of the dump after TDEC's conducted a site investigation of the landfill in May 1999, according to John Lilly of the TDEC's Division of Superfund.
   "It was completely legal to do that," said Lilly of laws governing solid waste disposal prior to 1972. "That is the nature of Superfund ... to go back and clean up these sites that were closed prior to 1980.
   "There are probably hundreds of other industries that used that landfill, but none we know of that used hazardous substances," he added.
   The company spent $27,000 to remove the material and transport it to a dump site in Michigan, said Shockley.
   In a letter to City Manager Charles Stahl dated December 5, 2002, Shockley wrote that both parties had reached a tentative agreement in September 2000. Under the agreement, the company would pay TDEC's accrued past costs of $41,000 and the $5,000 entry fee -- in addition to the $27,000 previously expended on the site, according to his letter to Stahl date Dec. 5.
   Shockley said Mapes had urged the city to place Sugar Hollow Dump into the VOAP, which allows parties to conduct an investigation and, if necessary, a cleanup of an inactive hazardous substance site.
   A VOAP application requires information concerning site inspection, the owner/operator, the applicant, the site's operational history, existing and previous permits and conditions and enforcement actions.
   However, Stahl said a caveat to the VOAP fee included the city paying not only the $5,000 fee but also roughly $68,000 in costs accrued by the state as well.
   In a letter from Stahl to Shockley, the city said it was prepared to enter into a consent order with the company subject to certain criteria.
   Those criteria were that City Council could not protect or hold harmless Mapes from other liabilities of outside parties related to the site; the city requested the company to submit $68,073 to the state to cover accrued costs; and asked that Mapes offer to contribute 15-20 percent of the $650,000 costs to bring the landfill's existing cap up to state Subtitle D Standards.
   A consent order figure of $73,078 more accurately reflects Mapes' 15 percent contribution offer including the $27,000 already expended by the company, according to Stahl's letter.
   "We felt that figure more accurately reflected the 15 percent we were willing to pay," Stahl said. "They wanted some form of contribution protection to indemnify their company and the city attorney determined that couldn't be done."
   In a written reply to the city from Shockley, Mapes declined the offer citing the city's delay in entering the VOAP and the company's previous offer and current expenditures.
   "They declined to accept our terms at this point," said Stahl. "If Mapes and the city could agree on certain ideas and agree to their role in this thing, the state would have to accept the role of both."
   Ornduff and Stahl both said the City Council had voted to join VOAP, but the city had never formally applied to enter the Program. Stahl cited the city's ongoing negotiations with Mapes and the state with regards to the site and the city's reluctance to enter the Program prematurely.
   He and Stahl also denied the city had "drug its feet" in entering the VOAP.
   "You can't make recommendations without the facts to make those recommendations," said Ornduff.
   A state-hired consultant had estimated recapping the landfill would cost $650,000 if the city entered the VOAP, according to Lilly.
   The recapping process would shed water off the landfill's perimeter and not let it percolate from the site into groundwater, he said. If the state does the entire capping work, the re-capping cost rises to an estimated $1.6 million, according to the state.
   "If they do not sign the VOAP, we will hire a state contractor or mediation contractor and do the work and charge the city for the work that is done," said Lilly.
   Lilly said the there were no current plans to excavate the landfill to identify the sources of each and every contaminant.
   "We are ready to start as soon as the city signs the VOAP order," he said. "The state, since 1999, has been ready, willing, and able to assist the city in any way we can up to providing the funding and letting the city pay it back as it can."
   While Mapes remains committed to cooperation with the city and state, Shockley said the company believed it has already borne a disproportionate share of participation in remediation of the landfill.
   The state Solid Waste Disposal Control Board, comprised of citizens from the public and private sector, meets in February to "promulgate" the landfill, according to TDEC.
   If the city and other industries haven't signed the VOAP when the Board meets, then the next commissioner of TDEC would sign a "commissioners order" requiring the city and an industry named in the order to meet the state's guidelines, said Lilly.
   The Sugar Hollow property was leased by the city for use as a solid waste dump site in 1958. The dump remained open until the early 1970s when the state ordered the site closed by July 1972.
   TDEC's Division of Superfund began a preliminary assessment of the site on the request of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1997.
   Stahl said the city had learned in November that paying for the recapping project could be done through a negotiated payment schedule.
   "We still have to be sensitive to the fact of $650,000 in costs that could be incurred by the city," he said.