Household garbage is spread and compacted at the Dougherty County Landfill each day, and it is covered with a layer of dirt each evening. The county’s landfill is one of its few money-making entities. (Staff Photo: Laura Williams)
ALBANY — The only things that offer any indication that you’re standing on a 75-foot-high pyramid of household garbage is the unpleasant odor that hits only if the wind’s blowing just right … and, of course, the pile of waste that was just dumped by one of several garbage trucks lined up to unload their burdens.
But before that mound of garbage has had even a couple of moments to settle, workers at the Dougherty County Landfill start spreading and packing the garbage at a facility that, ironically enough, is much neater than some people’s front yards. By late afternoon, the day’s deliveries will be covered over with dirt, another layer of refuse that, by the time landfill operators shut that particular cell down, will have reached a height of 175 feet, far taller than any other structure in the county.
Scott Addison, a Mercer University-graduated engineer with a vast knowledge of every aspect of solid waste management — from concept to design to implementation — is in charge of the Dougherty facility that one county commissioner calls “the nicest landfill in the state of Georgia.” It’s a facility that is budgeted to generate $3.2 million in revenue this year, enough to make it self-sustaining.
“This is not one of those things where people can say, ‘My tax dollars are going out there,’” County Administrator Richard Crowdis said of the landfill. “It generates enough revenue to pay for itself. That’s important because solid waste removal is so vital to every community. It’s one of those things citizens never think about: Out of sight, out of mind.
“But if we didn’t have our own landfill we’d have to have transfer stations where our garbage would be hauled to a super landfill like they have in Harris County. And we’d be at the mercy of an outside agency as far as the fees we paid. As it is, our solid waste fees are set by the County Commission.”
Addison inspected half of the state’s landfills for the Environmental Protection Division after graduating Mercer and later designed the structures for Atlanta-based Golden Associates, a private firm, before coming to Albany as solid waste director slightly less than three years ago. He oversees the 17 employees who are responsible for the 815 acres at the landfill in Southeast Dougherty County, a short distance from Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.
“We’re fortunate to have Scott as our landfill director,” Crowdis says. “He knows everything about the business: before, during and after.”
Addison specialized in environmental studies at Mercer, a specialty that tied in directly with waste management.
“When you look at the environmental field, you’re talking about things like water treatment, wastewater and solid waste,” the Roundo, S.C., native said. “Just as there is in the environment, there is a delicate balance in managing a landfill. You can’t be too late or too early.
“I’d inspected landfills with EPD and had had an opportunity to design landfills with Golden Associates. I wanted to see what it was like to be in charge of the daily operations. I guess you could say coming here allowed me to take my career full-circle.”
The Dougherty County Landfill generates income for its Solid Waste Enterprise Fund through the collection of “tipping fees,” which are charged for materials delivered to the facility. Those fees currently include $36.98 per ton for inert materials and household garbage, $68.04 for liquids, $41.04 for asbestos, $1 per tire for five or less, $1.60 per tire (or $225 a ton) for five or more and other associated fees.
Each landfill cell is an intricate structure built to exact specifications required by EPD as a guard against environmental issues that might impact surrounding land and water.
Cells are built on a clay base a minimum of 2 feet thick. That base is covered by high-density polyethylene liners whose seams are welded to prevent any seepage of leachate into groundwater. A thick geotextile pad is installed on top of the liners, and a 2-foot layer of protective cover (usually sand) tops that. The first 5 to 10 feet of waste piled at the base of what becomes a pyramid built on 12- to 15-foot lifts is preferential fill that further prevents leachate seepage.
“EPD comes out for inspections every step of the way,” Addison said. “You have to document every little detail, and there’s an extensive manual that must be followed before final inspection — and approval — is granted.”
District 6 Dougherty County Commissioner Jack Stone, who was elected to that board shortly after the landfill opened in 1985, said an East vs. West battle in the county over the landfill almost led to the recall of Commission Chairman Gil Barrett.
“The people in East Albany said they were tired of putting all the bad things on their side of town,” Stone said. “They kept insisting that the landfill be put on the west side of town. There was a lot of hell raised about that issue; it led to a recall (effort) of Gil.
“It turned out that the county found the perfect place where it would impact the least number of people. Of course, things are very different out there now. Now we’ve got probably the nicest landfill in the state of Georgia. And even though they were against the landfill being so close at the time, the Marine base benefited from the location.”
Stone’s reference is to the landfill gas-to-energy project that provides 16 percent of the energy used at MCLB-Albany. The joint county/U.S. Navy project captures methane gas that is created naturally as an anaerobic byproduct of degradation and pipes it to the Marine base, where it is converted to energy. The $1.2 million project, hailed as the first of its kind, by itself allows the Navy to meet the green requirements specified by the Obama administration as an renewable energy initiative.
“What that means, Stone said, “is that when they start talking about (military) base closures, we’ve got a huge advantage. With the emphasis on green energy now, I can’t imagine that they’d close down the base that by itself allows the Navy to meet federal requirements.”
Addison said the gas-to-energy project generated some $120,000 for the landfill Enterprise Fund last year, but it’s important for other reasons as well.
“It provides the Marine base renewable energy that exceeds federal goals,” he said. “It provides cheaper energy and is a co-generation project. The heat that’s recovered in the process of converting the methane to energy is also captured and used.”
Addison said the county’s household garbage landfill has a projected shelf life of 58 years, while a separate construction and demolition landfill is projected to be operational for another 77 years. (The life of the household landfill is, because of an anomaly, actually projected to last only another 24 years, according to latest EPD estimates. That will go up, though, because it took into account a huge amount of waste collected during demolition of the former Merck Chemical plant last year. And even though that material would typically have gone to the C&D landfill, chemicals used at the site required removal to the household landfill site.)
Addison’s job, by title, may not be the most glamorous in the county. But few are more important. And fewer still offer the unique issues that come with the position.
“We’ve got to start planning for new cell construction,” he said. “That’s a $3.75 million project. And we’re going to have to close the current cell soon, which requires us to cover it with a liner and seal it. Then we’ll have to monitor it for another 30 years after it closes.
“Every day we face new challenges. Nothing stays the same out here.”