State environmental regulators are requiring upgrades to the Macon landfill’s methane gas collection system that are likely to cost the city about $450,000 in unbudgeted expenses this year.
Dale Walker, Macon’s interim chief administrative officer, said the city has been talking with the Macon Water Authority about the possibility of borrowing the money from a fund the authority created last year to help cover the cost of eventually closing the landfill, which has been estimated at more than $9 million.
Tony Rojas, the authority’s director, said there is about $610,000 in the fund, which is intended to eventually reach $7.6 million.
Walker said the city could repay the fund using the revenue it receives from selling the landfill gas to Cherokee Brick & Tile Co. The company pays the city about $100,000 a year to burn the combustible methane in its brick-making kilns.
“I think it’s a workable solution,” Rojas said. “It lets the city deal with the methane issue but makes sure the fund maintains a balance for closure (of the landfill).”
The Cherokee Brick revenue is currently used to offset landfill operating costs. So Macon will still have to budget additional money in the future for running the landfill, Walker said.
“We may have to explore increasing rates or something,” he said.
But Walker noted the city’s plans to double the number of its gas wells as part of the required expansion, so the landfill might produce more gas to increase its income. He said Cherokee Brick has indicated that it’s in the market for more high-quality methane, partly because of growing demand for brick that meets “green” environmental standards.
“I’m not sure if the new wells will also extend the life of the landfill,” currently estimated at 15 years, Walker said. “If it doesn’t, and that’s just an outward expense, that’s hard to chew.”
Any agreement to loan the city money from the fund will have to be approved by the authority board and City Council, Rojas said.
Board Chairman Frank Amerson, who came up with the idea for the fund, has spoken with Mayor Robert Reichert about the proposal and supports the idea, Rojas said.
Amerson did not return calls seeking comment.
Lonnie Miley, chairman of the City Council’s Public Works and Engineering Committee, said he had not yet heard about the new requirements for the landfill.
Methane system problems
The Clean Air Act requires that landfill owners control the methane released by decomposing garbage. In Georgia, the state is responsible for enforcing the rules.
Karen Hays, a compliance program manager in the air protection branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said Macon’s landfill violations are procedural and are not related to unsafe emissions levels, Hays said.
EPD issued the city a notice of violation last March for failures in monitoring and reporting about the methane collection system, as well as for oxygen and pressure levels that were too high. When the city did not respond as quickly or thoroughly as the EPD wanted, the EPD required a consent order.
Hays said oxygen levels are a good indication of whether the gas collection system is working properly. Elevated oxygen levels could indicate a leak in a well or surface erosion on the landfill, for example.
The consent order, signed Dec. 14, requires the city to:
Bring the oxygen and pressure levels at its wells back into compliance with its air permit by Jan. 16;
Within 30 days, submit to EPD a design for an expanded gas collection system -- including new wells as well as vertical and horizontal connecting pipes -- and finish installation within six months of EPD approving the design;
Within 30 days, submit a plan and implementation schedule for burning or using the gas if Cherokee Brick is ever unwilling or unable to take it; and
Conduct a supplemental environmental project to make up for its recent landfill violations. The project involves retrofitting 15 city vehicles with cleaner exhaust systems.
Walker said the retrofits could cost between $5,000 and $15,000. The city originally proposed the idea to EPD in lieu of paying a fine for its violations, but the city intended to use a state grant to foot the bill. EPD agreed to the retrofits but is requiring Macon to pay out of its own funds.
If the city fails to complete the retrofits on time, it will owe the EPD $5,000, the order states.
Hays said the EPD approves of the city’s arrangement with Cherokee Brick. But in most cases, landfill operators that sell their gas to a third party have a backup device for handling the gas. Macon was allowed to choose what kind of backup system it wanted.
Walker said the city plans to install a flare to burn off the gas.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.