Possible changes at east Austin landfill causing a stink

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Northeast Austin neighbors and leaders in Travis County are turning up their noses at a possible change coming to the Austin Community Landfill.

Waste Management, the company operating the landfill, submitted an application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to build a “transfer station” at the site, located at 9900 Giles Lane.

According to State Representative Celia Israel, that would allow the company to “transfer of municipal solid waste at the East Austin landfill before shipping to other landfills in the region. Indefinitely.”

Israel lives near the landfill and has smelled odors, seen the truck traffic, and heard her neighbor’s concerns for years.

She and others believed the landfill would close when it reached capacity, but was “surprised” by this new application that would allow it to continue to operate.

Waste Management said the landfill has “approximately five years” of “active life” remaining.

However, they put out a statement that reads, in part, “with a growing population of almost 2.3 million, that is roughly 6 pounds of waste generated per person per day. The need to take out the trash is going to continue, and this transfer station will provide a viable solution for continued waste disposal.”

Basically, local waste collection trucks would come to this site to load up long-haul trucks, which would transfer the waste to other landfills around the state.

Israel said no matter what capacity they are operating in, she’s not on board.

“Continued landfill activity at this site is simply incompatible with today’s Austin,” she said. “This is an industrial site in the middle of residences all around us. We are in northeast Austin, the desired development zone.”

That’s why she called for a public meeting with TCEQ.

Signs put up in a neighborhood near the landfill ask neighbors to come out to a public meeting on Thursday night. (Avery Travis/KXAN)

What’s the stink?

Kim Wood moved in to her home less than two years ago, with the hope the nearby landfill would close soon.

“It’s not just a matter or neighbors not going outside or not letting their kids play outside,” Wood said. “We can actually smell it when we are inside our homes.”

She is one of more than 100 people who showed up to a public meeting Thursday night.

TCEQ officials and Travis county leaders opened the meeting, before handing the microphone over to more than two dozen people expressing concerns.

“It smells like garbage, sewage, trash, whatever you want to call it,” Wood said. “But to live with that is awful, and to constantly put in complaints and have no sort of results at the end of it is very frustrating.”

Kim Wood, neighbor

Chance Goodin, manager of Municipal Solid Waste Permitting at TCEQ, said they are aware of past complaints with the landfill, but this new application is a different matter.

“It’s about establishing a violation that’s associated with that complaint,” he said. “When an investigator goes out, they need to determine that some violation has occurred.”

He said those investigations happen any time there is a complaint, not just when a new application is submitted. However, they are interested in hearing neighbors concerns, especially this early in a new application process.

“Problem for decades”

The landfill sits in Travis County Precinct One, and Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion said it’s been a problem “not for weeks, not for months, but for decades.”

Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion in his office. (Avery Travis/KXAN)

“We are very concerned about the types of waste out there and whether they are being contained properly,” Travillion said. “If the landfill had been managed properly from the beginning, maybe the community would feel differently.”

He explained that years ago, Waste Management estimated the site would close in 2015.

Now, five years after that original closure date, he said neighbors complain of increased traffic and smells that “make it impossible to raise their children outside.”

“When you buy a home, and you want to raise your family there, it is really difficult to have days when you can’t go out at all.”

Travis County Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion, Precinct One

He said the goal is to move the site to another location, possibly to south Austin, Williamson County or even Caldwell County.

What’s next?

It’s now up to TCEQ to decide to deny or approve Waste Management’s request.

Goodin said the process is in the preliminary stages, and they got “new information” from Waste Management just last week.

The state agency is keeping the “public comment” period open past Thursday’s meeting. That could be open for weeks or even months, while they evaluate the information on the application.

To submit a comment to TCEQ:

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