- Why is the county and city involved in what has been a privately owned landfill?
- What has post-closure water monitoring indicated?
- So why is this issue being discussed now?
- What is the county buying and for how much?
- Where would the money come from?
- Why is the Koski property part of this potential transaction?
- Why hasn’t the Koski property been used for groundwater treatment?
- Why does the county want to buy the landfill and other properties?
- How does the county know that it's not assuming an unknown financial risk, namely an expensive cleanup bill, if it were to purchase the landfill?
- What else will the county and city be doing in coming months?
- How will possible future reuse of the landfill and adjacent properties be determined?
- What are some of the potential reuses that could come out of the process?
- What about waste to energy?
- How can nearby residents get involved?
1. Why is the county and city involved in what has been a privately owned landfill?
State law and agreements with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Washington State Department of Ecology require the county and the city to oversee closure activities at the landfill.
What has post-closure water monitoring indicated?
Ongoing testing of groundwater has raised no red flags. Testing has found trace levels of contaminants consistent with what would be expected from this type of landfill. Those concentrations continue to decline over time and are below cleanup standards.
3. So why is this issue being discussed now?
On December 15, 2009, the Board of Clark County Commissioners authorized the board chair to sign a nonbinding letter of intent to explore purchasing the landfill and adjacent properties, essentially the option area that was outlined in an agreement reached in December 1988.
On May 9, 2010, the Vancouver City Council formally “acknowledged” the purchase. Although only the county is buying the landfill, some of the purchase money will come from city garbage customers. Vancouver also is a party to legal agreements regarding the closed landfill and continues to have ongoing oversight responsibilities.
On May 10, 2011, the Board of Clark County Commissioners formally approved the purchase agreement. However, the sale isn’t expected to close for a year or longer while the county works out details with state agencies.
4. What is the county buying and for how much?
The county is purchasing 120 acres that includes the 74-acre landfill, as well as the 35-acre Koski property, to the south and west of the landfill, and a couple of smaller properties. All but 4.8 acres are part of the county option that was part of an agreement signed in December 1988. The negotiated price for the 120 acres is $1.5 million and was set by an appraisal.
5. Where would the money come from?
Clark County Public Works would pay $349,000 for 11 acres that would be used to extend Northeast 99th Street along the northern boundary of the closed landfill. The remainder of the money would come from the Leichner Landfill financial reserve fund managed by Clark County and the City of Vancouver for post-closure maintenance and environmental compliance.
The property was included in the county option more than 20 years ago because of the potential need for adjacent land for a “pump and treat” system to clean up contaminated groundwater. The Koski property also was included to provide cover soil for the landfill’s closure, as well as a location for monitoring wells to measure compliance with the Washington State Department of Ecology's cleanup plan.
The membrane cap placed on top of the landfill when it was closed has been effective in keeping water out. Groundwater contamination has declined over time, making treatment unnecessary.
First, by purchasing the property, it clears up a convoluted arrangement where the landfill remains in private ownership, even though there is a public financial and management responsibility.
Second, the property is a good buy. An appraisal placed the value of the 120 acres at $5.45 million, once it is no longer encumbered by the county option.
Third, county ownership would establish a clean title and provide a needed step toward ultimate reuse of the landfill site. Any reuse plan cannot interfere with post-closure maintenance and monitoring. A clean title also would facilitate reuse of the landfill and adjacent properties. Those include the Koski site, which is relatively flat, has no buried waste and is zoned for light industry.
There has been almost 20 years of post-closure monitoring, and that indicates the level of groundwater contamination is decreasing, not increasing.
Moreover, the purchase agreement requires the county to obtain an insurance policy to safeguard against unforeseen liability. The Environmental Pollution Liability Policy will provide $40 million in coverage. The approved 2011-12 budget for Leichner Landfill includes $387,000 for the one-time cost of a 10-year policy.
Such policies were not widely available when the Leichner Landfill closed in 1991. Because of the ability to purchase insurance today, it won't be necessary to maintain a large reserve fund as protection against future liability.
County and city officials will continue discussions with the Washington State Department of Ecology on a number of issues. Those include the potential process and timeline for determining when the landfill has “stabilized,” a legal term that means there is little or no gas production, groundwater contamination and settlement from the decomposing waste.
There is no way to know if and when Clark County Public Health and the Washington State Department of Ecology would declare the landfill stabilized. Although levels of gas production and groundwater contamination have declined significantly, full stabilization might be more than a decade away. To date, no municipal solid waste landfill in Washington has ever been released from post-closure maintenance and monitoring.
However, both the landfill and Koski property could be reused without full stabilization, as long as it does not interfere with post-closure care.
11. How will possible future reuse of the landfill and adjacent properties be determined?
The county likely will prepare a master plan that projects how the site could develop in the future. One example of master planning occurred earlier this decade when the county and city jointly funded a plan for future redevelopment of “Section 30,” a square mile in east Vancouver that historically has been used for gravel mining.
The landfill itself could be used for walking trails or other passive recreation while light manufacturing could take place on the Koski site.
One possibility is removing the landfill’s contents and cleanly burning them. Not only would that provide a way to generate electricity or heat, but it also would create jobs and return the land to a more usable state.
Part of the upcoming process could be a feasibility study to examine the potential for waste-to-energy conversion of the county’s waste stream. The 2008 Clark County Solid Waste Management Plan, prepared in accordance with state law, incorporated energy recovery into a hierarchy of options that includes waste reduction, reuse, recycling and land filling.
There will be opportunities to participate in master planning, from serving on a task force guiding the process to attending open houses and commenting on different options.