Landfill legacy troubled

As Elkins City Council puts together a proposal for dealing with the debts and operating costs of the Elkins-Randolph County Landfill, officials say the facility’s financial problems have been decades in the making.

“This is something that hasn’t been the current council’s making, but we have to deal with it now,” City Council’s Sanitation/Landfill Committee Chairman Carman Metheny said Wednesday. “It can’t be put off any longer.”

The Sanitation/Landfill Committee voted on June 10 to recommend that City Council approve a plan that would charge both residential and commercial customers each month to help pay off the landfill’s debts and operating costs.

On June 17, however, City Council voted to table any discussion on a proposed landfill surcharge.

Metheny said Wednesday city officials were striving to make those proposed monthly charges as low as possible.

“They are still working on the numbers, trying to get the numbers down,” he said. “I’m not sure if the ordinance will be ready for Monday’s Council meeting or not.” City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday in City Hall.

“We need to move on this quickly,” Metheny said. “That $60,000 we borrowed is going fast.”

City Council voted in a special meeting May 11 to loan $60,000 from the city’s water fund to pay monthly expenses at the landfill, which has been closed since September 2011 and has no cash flow. In May, officials said the money would keep the landfill afloat for two months.

During this time of financial turmoil, it is interesting to note that Elkins city government’s landfill problems go back many years, even predating the current landfill.

“Elkins has had at least three former landfills,” Metheny said this week.

“One of the older landfills was where the former city garage is located on 11th Street, and another was where the current Robert E. Lee Extension is located, near Elkins Middle School,” Metheny said.

A landfill located on what is now the Williams-Proudfoot Road, known as the Sanitary Landfill, was closed in the 1970s, prior to the opening of the current landfill near Jimtown, Metheny said.

City records show that Elkins was dealing with financial problems – and reprimands from the state – in the years prior to the closure of the Sanitary Landfill.

On June 14, 1973, James Cooper, the state Health Department’s district sanitarian, told Elkins City Council the Sanitary Landfill was a health hazard and was being operated illegally without a permit, according to the minutes from the meeting.

Cooper said he had conducted regular inspections of the Sanitary Landfill site since 1962, and had found “frequent violations” of state regulations, the minutes say.

During the meeting, “Mr. Cooper presented pictures taken at various times of conditions of the landfill” illustrating “a problem of (carcasses of) dogs and other animals left uncovered for long periods of time” and “a problem of odors, leeching, ponding, etc.,” according to the minutes.

Mayor James P. Gladkosky “reported that he had been summoned, along with City Attorney John E. Busch, Jr., to appear in Charleston at a hearing on the matter to answer charges that the city is not complying with Health Department regulations,” the minutes say.

However, Elkins city – and Randolph County – officials were already planning to open a new landfill.

“It was pointed out that the city, in cooperation with the county officials, have submitted application for approval of a new site and are awaiting final approval from the state,” the June 14, 1973, minutes say.

During the May 17, 1973, City Council meeting, Gladkosky had noted Elkins and Randolph County officials met several times “to work out an arrangement whereby the city and county can cooperate and share the cost of the operation of a new landfill.” Gladkosky said a new landfill “will be costly to get started but it appears absolutely necessary,” the minutes say.

At the June 21, 1973, meeting, Gladkosky reported that “dirt relocation and excavation work at the Sanitary Landfill” should “extend the use of the present landfill approximately four to six weeks. The usage of the landfill available at the present time has been exhausted. It is hoped that by the end of the six- weeks period, necessary approval can be secured for the opening of the new landfill site.”

However, several twists and turns were in store for city officials before the current Elkins-Randolph County Landfill could be opened.

Watch for the second article in this series, detailing the process of opening the Elkins-Randolph County Landfill.