COCKE COUNTY—Cocke County Solid Waste Board members recently met to discuss the county’s waste management issues, and the best ways to move forward.

The county currently pays Green For Life (GFL) Environmental more than $20,000 monthly to haul household waste to the Lowland landfill.

Construction and demolition materials are also being hauled out of Cocke County at a much higher price.

GFL has proposed placing trash compactors at all of the county’s convenience centers to alleviate some of the waste issues. GFL officials say it is a cheaper option for the county.

They are seeking a 10-year contract with the county to cover the expenses associated with the compactors. After that time the county would own the compactors and be responsible for the maintenance. The 10-year estimated expense to the county is projected to be $5,365,180. If the county handles the initial setup the cost would be $4,980,582.

The county is considering an expansion of the landfill that will cost some where in the neighborhood of $1.5 to $2 million.

If expanded, studies show the life span of the new section would be around 15.7 years.

County Legislative Body and Solid Waste Board members are looking at all options to extend that life span.

Mark Cathey of McGill Associates has proposed a financial evaluation comparing the construction and operational costs of a landfill versus the development of a solid waste transfer station. The transfer station would be a central collection point where waste is collected and transported to an out of county facility.

A second option proposed by McGill would be a full cost analysis of the county’s solid waste system including disposal, projected capital improvements, equipment purchases and all fees for a 15-year period.

Cathey said option one would cost the county $15,000 to $20,000 and option two would be $50,000 to $80,000.

Several CLB members were in attendance for the Solid Waste Board meeting.

Commissioner Forest Clevenger expressed his concerns with the permit process for the landfill that has taken nearly five years.

The state has approved the permit and the county can move forward, but Clevenger is seeking answers for the past issues that caused the delay.

“According to McGill’s timeline, in 2016 McGill and the county mayor received a letter from the state saying the study for the permit was deficient due to geological studies. We were paying you for revisions because the grade of the landfill was wrong,” Clevenger said.

“Two years go by and you never resubmitted things and that’s the reason it’s been five years. In 2010 TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation) came in and said our landfill was overfilled and now we have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. We pay $25,000 to $30,000 to haul waste each month because the studies were passed off according to your timeline. This has thrown us off two years in getting our permit.”

Cathey responded to Clevenger by saying he was unaware of the issues that preceded him taking over the project. Cathey took over in 2019, long after the initial employee that started the permit process had left the company.

“We have spent an untold amount because you all dropped the ball. I don’t know why we are still paying you,” Clevenger said.

“My best guess is you all cost us $1 million because you did not resubmit the study. There may be an explanation for this, but I’ve yet to hear it.”

Mayor Crystal Ottinger told the board the county was unaware the employee was no longer with McGill. She said the county had no choice but to move forward with a new project leader.

“Once we realized the former employee was not there, and we couldn’t get information out of the Knoxville office, we contacted Mark (Cathey) and TDEC,” Ottinger said.

“We had to stay the course and switched things over to the Asheville office. They are on top of things now.”

Clevenger suggested the county use another contractor moving forward if a landfill is constructed. He said the county should at least bid out the needed work.

Cathey told the board regardless of the company, the county needs to find a way to move forward with a landfill or waste removal system.

“You are now permitted and ready to move forward. The state said it was one of the best submittals they have received,” Cathey said.

“All I can tell you is you need to move forward for this next construction season. You need another solution for your Class 3 waste. I believe your best course is with McGill as TDEC has given us the all good to move forward with phase one.”

Randy Corlew, a civil engineer with experience in the construction of landfills, participated in the meeting at the request of commissioner Clevenger.

Corlew told the board he would gladly partner with Cathey and McGill Associates to discuss the county’s options.

“You need to explore all of your options, but you don’t want to lose time,” Corlew said.

“Moving forward I think you need to put the past behind you and focus on finding funds for the project. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.”

When and if the new landfill is opened there will also be the expense of closing the old landfill.

Solid Waste Board members will work with County Finance Director Heather McGaha to create a budget that will cover construction expenses.

It will be up to the full CLB to find ways to fund the projects moving forward.

The permit for the landfill will be good for 12 months, but construction must begin before Dec. 3 of this year.

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