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Last week, a guest column by Mr. Rusty Janssen, Senior Vice President for LRS South, was published in this space [in the Baxter Bulletin]. In his column he addressed the emerging controversy surrounding the proposed sale and reopening of the failed, environmentally hazardous NABORS landfill in Baxter County. After claiming that much “misleading information” and “blatant disinformation” has been disseminated that “could potentially result in long-term physical and environmental harm to the community,” he went on to state that “facts are powerful” and “assumptions are dangerous.” We couldn’t agree more about the power of facts, so we’d like to present a few of the central facts and address some of his key misstatements and correct a few of the assumptions he asserted that those of us who are opposed to reopening the landfill have made.
Mr. Janssen characterized as an “assumption,” the statement made by opponents to the landfill “that the landfill sits on KARST [sic] topography – land unsuitable for building upon due to the presence of soluble rock formations.” No, it is an established fact that the landfill is indeed sitting on karst, at least based on the most used definitions of karst. In a 2014 report, “Arkansas Geology: Karst and Caverns,” a professional staff member of the Arkansas Geological Survey (AGS) stated: “The majority of surface rocks in the Ozark Plateaus Region of northern Arkansas are limestone and dolostone, and the region contains all of the features typical of a karst landscape. Thousands of caves and hundreds of springs are present in this region. Disappearing streams and dry valleys are common in the Salem and Springfield Plateau Regions.” The NABORS landfill site is in the Salem Plateau and limestone and dolostone are “soluble rock formations, so clearly the landfill is underlain by karst geology.
Although it could be considered misleading, perhaps Mr. Janssen is using a much more constrained definition of karst. But given that he did not state the definition of karst that he was applying to the situation, we can’t enjoin a point-by-point debate on that. However, to be clear about our statements, the meaning of karst that we are using is one that the National Park Service states in common English as, “In karst, spaces or conduits form in the subsurface that allow for rapid movement of groundwater. Water moves quickly from the earth’s surface underground in these places.”
That being the case, and even more compelling given that the specific context is the NABORS landfill, are direct, unequivocal statements about the geology of the landfill site made in a 2008 letter co-signed by the Geology Supervisor and Engineering Supervisor of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. These statements include:
- “Subsurface conditions at this site include carbonate rock with documented solution features including voids, fast flowing groundwater during dye testing and nearby large springs each of which is documented in SWMD [Solid Waste Management Division] records.”
- “The SWMD [of ADEQ] has concerns about the poor foundation conditions and stability during proposed blasting operations. These concerns are based on the fact that the landfill is located on the Cotter Dolomite that has the same dissolution characteristics as other dolomite formations and in addition, the large solution voids found at the site within 100 feet of waste in 1998.”
- “During monitoring of the signature blast, a groundwater level decrease of 3.7 feet occurred over a 24 hour period following the blast in well NAB-2 and the water level did not recover. This drop is significant, started at the time of the blast, and is not a natural groundwater level fluctuation. Well NAB-2 is located 374 feet from the blast location with a groundwater level of over 60 feet below ground surface. This groundwater level drop indicates that the blast created new or enhanced existing groundwater pathways within the bedrock, deep enough in the subsurface to drain groundwater in this deep well.”
- “Evidence found during the signature blast shows the opening of new pathways in the bedrock well below the blast zone which increases gas and water flow potential. Increased flow of gas and water in the subsurface beneath the site could set up conditions for increased migration of landfill pollutants over the long term.”
So, these statements by ADEQ’s professionals not only clearly explain why the landfill became and remains an environmental hazard even after closure, but also makes clear that Mr. Janssen’s statement that “no tests ever conducted on the site have produced compelling evidence that the site is structurally unsuitable for a landfill…” is not truthful.
Mr. Janssen states that another incorrect assumption of “some residents” is “that the landfill’s closure has halted its environmental impact and keeping it closed is the only sure-fire way to avoid more trouble in the future.” In fact, we could not possibly believe that keeping it closed will prevent more trouble in the future because the testing of water from wells at the landfill site continues to document levels of hazardous pollutants that exceed established standards. A December 2022 report by Harbor Environmental and Safety (contracted by ADEQ) of contaminant levels in 37 wells and springs at the landfill documented instances of chemicals exceeding the maximum contaminant levels. Some of those chemicals include Arsenic, Cadmium, Thallium, Cobalt, Vinyl Chloride, Benzene, and Trichloroethane. So, the geologic facts documented by ADEQ mean that this pollution problem is an ongoing hazard. That hazard is expected to abate over a long period with the closed landfill management. A very reasonable supposition would be that, because of the geologic unsuitability of the site, reopening and expanding the landfill would magnify the scope of the documented pollution problem.
But Mr. Janssen’s statements seem to imply that if LRS were to acquire, reopen, and expand the landfill, they would invest millions of dollars to remediate the problems (while nevertheless somehow providing “more affordable and higher quality waste management service to the local community”). The tone of the collective statements about remediating and managing the landfill site seems to be “trust us, we’ll take care of it.” Yet, the above-quoted 2008 letter from the ADEQ professionals includes the statement that “[geologic] foundation failures leading to differential settling may compromise integrity of liners, leachate collection systems, final covers, landfill gas collection systems, surface water controls and any other system required to protect human health and the environment” [emphasis ours].We are admittedly not solid waste management specialists, but this assessment by the state’s top solid waste management professionals provides as solid a foundation as one could imagine for our concerns about, and opposition to, the reopening of the NABORS landfill.
The NABORS landfill was closed for commerce by ADEQ in 2012 due to the environmental hazards it created. ADEQ assumed responsibility for the management of the inactive landfill and ultimately completed the certified closure construction and capping, the most important steps in the active management of the inactive landfill, in January 2020. The closure construction for ADEQ was completed by SCS Engineering, the same firm hired by LRS for management of their pre-sale Supplemental Subsurface Investigation and Dye Trace Study initiated in February of 2023. ADEQ is now actively managing the closed landfill according to federal and state regulations, funded by the Landfill Post Closure Trust Fund. All reports, inspections and maintenance activity are available on the ADEQ public database.
LRS Vice President Mr. Janssen, has expressed his disagreement with “some residents” of Baxter County. These residents happen to include the members of the Baxter County Quorum Court, the Mountain Home City Council, the County Judge and the Mayor of Mountain Home, who have strongly expressed their opposition to the reopening of the landfill. Residents of Baxter County indeed have a good understanding of the facts surrounding the NABORS landfill, having a clear memory of the assurances confidently expressed by the owner of the corporation that first opened the landfill in 1979, over the objections of many citizens. Baxter County residents and leaders remember, and continue to suffer the environmental and health risks from, the failed attempt to operate and manage a leaking, out-of-compliance landfill.
As a result what they have personally experienced with the NABORS landfill, residents now fully understand the ramifications of attempting to operate a landfill over an unstable, wholly unsuitable karst foundation. They fully understand the threat that hazardous chemicals pose to their health and to their economic welfare. They know that the sure-fire way to invite even more trouble is to allow such a closed, failed landfill to reopen.
Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers appreciate the opportunity to express our views regarding this issue. We remain dedicated to the advocacy and defense of clean healthy waters, a key part of the natural infrastructure for the economy of Baxter County and the region.
President, Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers
Secretary, Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers