UPDATE: A hearing scheduled for Monday on Central Recycling Services' proposal for a Chugiak disposal site has been postponed. Click here for an update.
Central Recycling Services turns construction and demolition debris into money at a bustling facility along Anchorage's Ship Creek.
The company made more than $3.5 million last year selling steel and crushed asphalt, concrete and glass to Seattle and Alaska markets.
Now, short on space and chafing at $60-per-ton municipal landfill fees, Central Recycling hopes to build two of its own fills for the shredded debris it can't sell -- 8,000 tons a year and rising.
The company has proposed two, 30-year debris disposal sites in Chugiak and Palmer.
As recycling supporters hail the proposed monofills, neighbors are pushing back, worried about the possibility for fouled drinking water wells and decreased property values.
Unlike conventional landfills, the debris fills are lightly regulated by the state with no requirements for underground liners or wells to monitor water quality. The absence of clear regulations spooks nearby residents. It also breeds unpredictable permit decisions.
Central's proposed debris dumps conform to Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation standards. Anchorage planners are recommending approval for the Chugiak site. But the Matanuska-Susitna Borough rejected the company's design standards for Palmer.
Central plans to install monitoring wells, co-owner Shane Durand said. But the public doesn't see that in the paperwork because the state application didn't require it.
"So we got hit for not having a monitoring plan," Durand said.
Opponents of the dumps see it differently. They say operators like Central -- and current or future debris dumpers -- are taking advantage of Alaska's lax laws.
"I actually think these people are trying to get this in as quick as they can, thinking once Alaska catches up they'll be grandfathered in," said John Daily, a Chugiak resident who lives near one of the proposed fill sites.
Wanted: permission to proceed
Central still needs to get local approval for both sites, which are at different stages.
At Chugiak, Central wants permission to dump construction and debris waste at a 17-acre parcel next to Loretta French Park, land that's part of a larger, 62-acre property owned by Eklutna Inc., the village corporation that's the municipality's largest private landowner. Anchorage's Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to take up a new zoning plan and conditional-use permit for the Chugiak dump on Monday night.
The company also wants to develop a 35-acre corner on a larger site Central owns in an old gravel pit west of Palmer at Mile 35 of the Glenn Highway.
That one's more complicated. For one thing, Central wants to dump 10,000 tons a year of asbestos-containing material, half of it falling under state regulations that require special precautions like heavy bags and cover to make sure the toxic dust doesn't reach the air. The asbestos also has to go into a special cell at the landfill.
The company also got a less-than-friendly reception in the Valley.
The Mat-Su Borough Planning Commission, in a 4-3 vote in June, rejected Central's application for a conditional-use permit, citing groundwater protection and concerns about litter. A borough code compliance officer also cited the company for dumping without a permit and trash after neighbors reported that Central was already dumping there and litter was blowing off the site. Durand said he only brought some shredded waste up to test for use in roads.
In July, as the violations moved through the local appeals process, a state judge convicted the company on six code violations linked to dumping waste at the site without , a permit. The company has appealed the convictions.
Central plans to apply for another conditional-use permit, according to borough planner Alex Strawn.
Durand an Eagle River native, only half-jokingly says he's known as the "toxic avenger" these days, describing loud public meetings where detractors attack everything from his character to his driving record.
"We're not some big corporation from out of state," he said. "We're not going to do anything to jeopardize our business, our lives. We're not just some shady fly-by-night guys, dumping and running."
The company plans to safeguard the dump sites, he said. He ticked off a short list: keeping material covered with fill and gravel; closely tracking material coming onto the sites; monitoring through test wells and on-site cameras. If both dumps come on line, Central would add 10 or 15 employees to the core group of 15 on staff now, he said.
Durand co-owns the company with two others including majority owner Stuart Jacques. The three also own Central Environmental Inc., a construction, demolition and environmental firm. Another company, Central Monofill Services, would operate the debris dumps.
Material comes in from construction and demolition sites around Anchorage and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to Central Recycling's Ship Creek property, in operation since 2009.
Peaks of twisted metal, broken concrete and chunks of asphalt share space with small piles of fishing lines. A low hill of what looks like gravel glistens with blue, green and yellow on closer inspection -- shattered glass to use in roadbeds or utility corridors as pipe bedding.
A front-end loader shoves used carpet pads onto a 20-foot mountain of demolition debris. A taller pile of waste shredded into 2-inch pieces, mostly wood with bits of orange newspaper bags and a random plastic lid, looms nearby. It was waste like this that Central moved to Palmer before getting a permit.
Normally, Durand said, the piles wouldn't be so high. But rather than pay full price at the landfill, Central has raised prices to cut down on business, he said.
Durand said the company built a business model around a 50 percent rebate promised by officials at the municipal landfill. But that rebate was only put into effect for certain items like paper, plastic, steel and glass, not the full load.
"It's become a huge number every year," Durand said. "And we're taking money away from them by bringing material through here."
Municipal solid waste officials said Friday there was never any assurance of a rebate except for items listed in the ordinance.
Pickle jars to road beds
The state's longtime anti-litter, pro-recycling private nonprofit supports Central's dump permit applications for both monofill proposals.
Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling, or ALPAR, likes the company's track record and the fact that the new dump sites will conserve space in current landfills.
Construction and demolition waste accounts for "a big part of what's recycled in Anchorage," said Mary Fisher, ALPAR's executive director.
"It makes sense that inert materials are put into a landfill that is not as expensive as a full-blown landfill," Fisher said.
You know how glass recycling in Anchorage started again just last year? Credit Central, she said. The company recycles all the glass collected at the Anchorage Recycling Center. Those pickle jars and wine bottles get processed and sold into the local construction market.
The Alaska Department of Transportation worked with ALPAR and Central to change contracting requirements and allow the glass to be treated like pea gravel, Durand said. He gets $10 to $20 a ton for glass.
Central has recycled 700 tons of glass since November, Fisher said. "That's a big contribution to residential recycling in Anchorage."
There's already a construction and demolition debris monofill in Birchwood near the airport.
The stomach-turning stench rising off a small area at that dump got John and Theresa Daily involved in Central's nearby proposal for Chugiak.
John Daily, a pilot and senior officer with the Anchorage police department, got a whiff of what he described as "very obnoxious odor" during a visit to the airport in January 2012. Daily filed a complaint with the state. He said the vapors smelled like the pulp mills he grew up around in Georgia, signalling potentially toxic levels of hydrogen sulfide.
"It was getting to the point where I was getting nauseated," Daily said last week.
Officials with DEC say they told the dump operator, Birchwood Recreation and Shooting Park, to dig up the small area and expose bacteria causing the smell to air. Snowmelt had permeated a section of fill and triggered the problem. DEC says the operator fixed it.
Daily says the experience soured residents on debris monofills.
When the Central proposal surfaced, the Chugiak Community Council voted against it. Nearly 800 people signed a petition opposing the monofill, according to Theresa Daily, a Web designer. The area is a dedicated safe drinking water zone, the couple points out.
"We realized if we didn't jump on it, it was going to get kind of streamrolled into us," John Daily said.
The proposed fill site at the headwaters of Mink Creek sits near enough the local water table that seeps bubble up, he said. Daily said he's concerned that any contamination could get into downhill drinking water wells.
"With DEC, almost everything is self-regulated," Daily said. "They promise not to put this, this, and this in there. There's nobody to check that they don't."
Palmer's water worry
Near Palmer, the proposed monofill borders the Kepler-Bradley lakes system that includes the state's Matanuska Lakes State Recreation Area. A 2010 study estimated nearly 50 wells in the area.
The spot already has some water issues.
The gravel company that sold the property to Central apparently punctured the underground aquifer that supplies those wells and feeds local lakes, borough planners say. Water levels fluctuated by several feet, rising and falling as the aquifer equalized. Some septic systems flooded. Some shallow agricultural wells went dry.
That matters now because Central needs to accurately gauge the height of the unpredictable water table to keep fill out of groundwater, officials say.
"They're putting material in, even though they call it inert material, there are potentially some compounds in there that could get into the water table," planner Strawn said. "We want to ensure there's a reasonable buffer to filter out some of that material."
Central plans to use gravel as a buffer, he said. "A liner would be great but they weren't interested in doing that."
Neighbors of the proposed site say they're concerned about blowing trash and aquifer protection.
Chemicals that could leach from tire bales Central plans to put around the fill worry Realtor Dody Kettler, who lives on Canoe Lake not far from the proposed monofill. Kettler rattles off statistics that home values drop 6 percent when a dump moves in.
"It's just a terrible spot," Kettler said. "I'm all for recycling, absolutely, but you have to find a spot that's safe."
Reach Zaz Hollander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4317.
By ZAZ HOLLANDER