King County picks plan to keep landfill open for another decade

August 31, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Cedar Hills Regional Landfill could remain open until the mid-2020s under a proposed plan, even as other factors — such as increased recycling and a feeble economy — stretch the number of years the landfill could operate.

The proposal to increase capacity at the giant landfill has inched ahead, after King County Solid Waste Division leaders spent 16 months addressing concerns about the project as part of a required environmental analysis.

Nearby homeowners raised concerns about odors, noise, storm water runoff, ground water contamination and traffic, plus potential impacts on flora and fauna.

Solid Waste Division leaders released the detailed analysis, or environmental impact statement, of the expansion proposals in late July.

The landfill encompasses 920 acres in unincorporated King County between Issaquah and Maple Valley.

Officials settled on a plan to turn 56.5 acres in the southwestern corner of the landfill — dotted by a soil stockpile, a lagoon for contaminated runoff and a pond to collect silt — into a disposal area. The option calls for the lagoon and pond to be rebuilt in the southern part of the landfill.

If the King County Council signs off on the plan later this year, the Solid Waste Division must secure permits from local, regional and state agencies before work can begin. Construction could start in 2014. The cost to design and build the project could reach about $20 million in 2010 dollars. The county intends to pay for the expansion by using reserves set aside from customer rate payments.

Solid Waste Division planners picked the option because the design calls for the least disruption to existing structures and the forested buffer surrounding the landfill. The modifications could keep the landfill open until at least 2024.

Furthermore, the proposed development could occur under the solid-waste permit issued for the site in 1960.

The agency considered possible impacts to the environment, feedback from county residents and cost in the decision. The agency selected the plan from five proposals designed to extend landfill operations by three to 13 years.

Balancing act

The environmental analysis indicated none of the proposals should cause significant increases in odor emanating from the landfill. The solid waste agency faces a difficult balancing act in order to handle mountains of garbage and, at the same time, curb the stench.

Studies conducted on potential noise and vibration impacts said berms and the forested buffer should limit sound and vibration related to construction and day-to-day operations. The agency eschewed options to work atop higher-elevation locations; the elevation could allow noise to travel farther, due to the lack of barriers present at lower levels.

The environmental review said the plan should not impact storm water runoff and ground water at Cedar Hills.

Because landfill-related traffic hinges on the amount of garbage hauled to Cedar Hills, the number of trucks using roads near the landfill could drop as the county starts to compact more waste in the years ahead, the report states.

Solid Waste Division Director Kevin Kiernan said the division has also taken steps to protect animals and plants at the landfill.

“We think the more people who see the facility and understand what goes on there, the more they like it,” he said.

The public review process included requests for comment and public meetings, including a hearing at the Greater Maple Valley Community Center in October.

“And indeed we did add certain types of analysis requested by those at the meeting,” agency Engineering Services Director Victor Okereke said.

Longer lifespan

King County opened the landfill in 1965. Forecasts based on 2009 data indicated Cedar Hills — the last active landfill in the county — should reach capacity by 2018, though the recession caused a drop in the amount of garbage sent to the landfill. Kiernan said garbage generation sunk 20 percent after the stock market nosedived in late 2008, but has started to level off as the economy recovers.

“Garbage is an economic indicator,” he added.

Landfill use could be stretched longer still as food-scrap recycling and compostable food packaging come into broader use.

“Quite frankly, our crystal ball gets a little foggy as we look into the late 2020s,” Kiernan said.

Trash haulers offer food-scrap recycling to more than 90 percent of King County residents, including Issaquah customers. In Issaquah, a breakthrough food-packaging ordinance — the measure requires compostable containers at restaurants and food purveyors, and outlaws tough-to-recycle polystyrene, or Styrofoam — takes effect Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, the Solid Waste Division is in the process of updating 1960s-era transfer stations. Trash collected throughout King County gets hauled to eight stations for sorting and compacting. Trash collected in Issaquah heads to the Factoria station.

The agency has replaced or renovated stations in Enumclaw, Shoreline and Vashon Island, and plans to upgrade the Algona, Bow Lake, Factoria, Houghton and Renton stations by 2016. Plans call for facilities better suited to modern trucks and recycling techniques.

Report a smell

Report complaints or concerns about Cedar Hills Regional Landfill to the King County Solid Waste Division at 206-296-4490, a 24-hour hotline established in 2000. The agency monitors odor daily throughout the landfill and around the perimeter, and weekly in adjacent neighborhoods. Staffers investigate odors when a complaint is received.

Moreover, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency also maintains the Air Quality Complaint Line — at 206-343-8800, ext. 6 — for residents to report odor complaints from the landfill, the nearby privately owned and operated Cedar Grove Composting or another source.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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