After a four year legal struggle that eventually saw the state legislature pass a law specifically to address the situation, Lewisville officially approved Farmers Branch’s proposal to expand Camelot Landfill at the Monday, Oct. 17 city council meeting. Farmers Branch owns the landfill, but it exists in Lewisville city limits.
The council officially granted its permission for Farmers Branch to expand the landfill’s maximum height to 675 feet above sea level and its footprint by 120 acres, 38 of which will be more landfill and the rest of which will be for expanding its internal infrastructure. Farmers Branch will need permission from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to go through with the plans and needed Lewisville’s blessing to make a proposal to the TCEQ.
Lewisville also amended its agreement with Farmers Branch allowing such an expansion. The acres that will be developed in this plan are heavily wooded. The original deal signed in January stipulated that Farmers Branch would comply strictly with Lewisville’s land development regulations, which would assess a $500 fee per tree cut down. Instead of paying this fee, Farmers Branch will allow Lewisville residents free disposal at Camelot Landfill one day per month. This will begin after DFW Landfill, which currently offers this service, closes.
DFW Landfill, also known as Mount Lewisville, is on the northeast corner of Railroad and Hebron Parkway and where most of Lewisville’s trash currently goes. Camelot is a separate landfill owned by Farmers Branch, situated just on the other side of the Elm Fork of Trinity River. A third landfill exclusively for construction debris, Lewisville Landfill, is in the same area, just north of Highway 121.
Camelot Landfill was first permitted in 1979. Lewisville annexed the land from Carrollton in 1987. Farmers Branch first proposed expanding the landfill in 2010, but since the landfill was not in Lewisville when it was built, they did not want to comply with Lewisville city ordinances in the new construction. Lewisville and Carrollton fought them on it, eventually filing a federal lawsuit saying that it operated as an open dump. That was settled in March 2015, when Farmers Branch agreed to build the slurry wall and implement a leachate system to remove pollutant fluids. In the intervening time period, the state legislature passed HB 281, which states that the city a given landfill is in must give its consent before the landfill can file with the TCEQ for permission to expand.
Though HB 281 did give the city permitting power, City Council member Neil Ferguson said there was no way to completely block expansion.
Lewisville has two other landfills in city limits, and Ferguson said that to say another could not operate would have brought a lawsuit. Additionally, Ferguson said the trash has to go somewhere, and sending it far away would only have increased transportation pollution.
“If we’d taken the position, ‘you can’t expand at all and that’s that,’ that would have been a lawsuit for sure, and I can just tell you it would have been a lawsuit we could not win,” he said. “Saying, ‘Not in my backyard, period, over-and-out,’ that wasn’t a viable option.”
The approval comes after a series of compromises between the cities in the January deal. Farmers Branch reduced the proposed final height of the landfill by 100 feet. Farmers Branch also agreed to pay a host fee starting Jan. 1, 2017 of $93,000 annually plus $1.20 per ton of trash put into the dump. According to Farmers Branch environmental services and solid waste manager Shane Davis, the landfill took in about 532,000 tons of material during the calendar year 2015.
Farmers Branch had also agreed in March 2015 to install monitoring wells to measure potential contamination in the Woodbine Aquifer, as well as build a slurry wall and implement a leachate system to reduce the contamination. This was part of a settlement of the federal lawsuit Lewisville brought against the landfill in 2012 after the expansion was proposed.
Ferguson said the lawsuit was partially intended to serve as a red flag for the TCEQ while it was considering Farmers Branch’s initial proposal, but also that he thinks they would have filed it eventually because of the chemicals they were discovering in existing monitoring wells, which did not descend all the way into the aquifer. Ferguson said they were concerned about arsenic and three chlorine compounds.
“The lawsuit, as much as anything, was to put them on notice,” he said. “You’re not going expand this landfill until you clean up what you’ve got.”
The council approval came not a moment too soon, as Davis said Camelot is brushing up against its current maximum height. Davis said that if Camelot takes on the trash load of DFW Landfill after it tops out, Camelot would swiftly follow.
“We got a few more feet we can still go up, but this is pretty much our final grade without the expansion,” he said. “I give us one-to-two years of life after DFW closes if we don’t expand.”
Davis said the expansion would extend Camelot’s lifespan by as much as 40 years.
The resolutions almost didn’t pass. Ailing mayor pro tem Leroy Vaughn missed his fourth consecutive council meeting due to health concerns. Council members Brandon Jones and TJ Gilmore abstained due to conflicts of interest. Jones’ wife, Sherrelle Evans-Jones, is Farmers Branch’s finance director. Gilmore works for Waste Management, an economic competitor with Republic Services, the disposal company that operates Camelot. However, Republic Services does contract Camelot’s electricity generation out to Waste Management, meaning the companies co-exist on the site.
With Vaughn absent and Jones and Gilmore abstaining, the council did not have enough members to form a quorum and could not legally approve the resolutions, despite all members agreeing that they should go forward. After a brief closed session to confer with city attorney Lizbeth Plaster, it was decided that Gilmore did not have a conflict of interest. Reaching a quorum on the Camelot decisions, the council moved forward.
Gilmore explained that he recused himself in the past to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, but that he was not ethically compromised.
As part of an agreement to settle Lewisville’s 2012 federal lawsuit, Camelot workers sunk several monitoring wells into the Woodbine Aquifer to keep track of potential chemical runoff from the landfill and built a slurry wall underground to keep potential contaminants from moving past the site. Davis said they were worried about four molecules, trichloroethylene and three forms of dichloroethylene, which can damage the liver if consumed in large enough quantities. Davis said they also found arsenic which, along with barium, is a naturally occurring element in the local soil. Davis said the most heavily contaminated well found concentrations of 78 parts per billion for one type of dichloroethylene, but the least found no contamination.
He said the numbers had been trending downward since the wells and slurry wall were installed.
“We’re getting to the point where a lot of these are starting to go away now. We had one well here that had no detections at all, which is really good news,” he said. “Overall, the trends are very favorable. Everyone wants them to be zero. So do we.”