Mat-Su

Anchorage company's controversial Palmer monofill returns to life

PALMER — A contentious construction-debris landfill proposed near Palmer by an Anchorage company has come back to life despite three rejections in four years.

A judge remanded the decision back to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission, which will hold a hearing on it Monday evening.

It marks the third time Central Monofill Services will go before the seven-member body that's twice turned the company down.

Central Environmental Services in Anchorage operates Central Recycling Services and Central Monofill, the company behind the proposal to landfill shredded building and demolition debris, including asbestos, at a 120-acre former gravel pit at Mile 38 of the Glenn Highway near the Matanuska Lakes State Recreation Area.

The company hopes to avoid municipal landfill rates to dispose of the bulky building waste. The proposed debris dump is classified as an "inert monofill" and subject to few state regulations.

Monday's hearing, which starts at 6:15 p.m. in the borough assembly chambers, is likely to be well-attended.

The monofill generated loud criticism from hundreds of nearby residents concerned about the potential for groundwater contamination at the 35-acre site located over an already unstable water table.

They are also concerned about Central's history of pushback against the borough. Along with the appeal that led to Monday's hearing, the company has appealed most other decisions as well as violations levied against them.

"They become obstinate. They lawyer up and they fight you in court," said Rich Harbuck, who lives at the boundary of the old gravel pit. "If we give them carte blanche to run their own landfill out here putting questionable materials in it without oversight … if we find them doing something wrong, they're not going to fix it."

Central's history also motivated borough planners to recommend another denial.

A proposed resolution for the planning commission references concerns about trash, screening the dump from neighbors, and possible drinking water contamination.

But borough staff also contend a company owner lied to them and tried to hide illegal dumping at the property in 2013, according to the resolution, which contends Central continues to violate borough code by storing tires at the property.

That year, Central — without a permit — brought to the property dozens of industrial-sized tires, scrap wood and shredded wood, plastic, metal, Styrofoam and household trash including wrappers and bottles, according to borough records.

Borough compliance officer Mark Whisenhunt responded to reports that trash was blowing off the property and found some of it buried under sand or gravel, and pushed into standing water. He ordered operations stopped, trash removed and "topper" material removed as well.

The borough contends Central refused to clean up the site until the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation got involved.

"Central Monofill Services is unsuitable to establish, maintain, or operate this proposed use due to their history of violating MSB code and their dishonesty to the Borough," said the proposed planning commission resolution, signed by development services manager Alex Strawn.

Whisenhunt, now a planner, has been handling the permit since 2013.

A Central representative says that 2013 incident is old news and nobody lied about anything to Whisenhunt.

"Mark was just flat-out wrong and for him to say that these guys are lying … that is not true at all," said Bill Ingaldson, an attorney representing Central in the case.

Central crews cleaned up most of the waste after the blowing trash report came in, Ingaldson said. If anything was buried, it was because Central was testing it for road material. They left the topper material because they contended it wasn't trash. A borough appeals board backed that contention; a judge did not.

The attorney said Central worked with Strawn for a year on a 2014 permit application.

"For them to come and say they're not qualified — I mean, really?" Ingaldson said, referring to the time spent with Strawn, who recommended the permit be approved. "It's dishonest and shows a complete lack of professionalism and integrity."

The planning commission in 2013 voted against the monofill, citing concerns about windblown garbage and groundwater contamination. When Central submitted a new application with new hydrology information in 2014, Strawn recommended permit approval but with 40 conditions including monitoring wells, debris-catching fences and a 162-foot height limit.

The permit failed and Central, immediately protesting the recusal of one commissioner who said he'd done some minor business with the company, appealed the commission's decision to the borough's five-member Board of Appeals.

The board upheld the commission decision in March 2015. Central appealed that decision to Palmer Superior Court.

A Superior Court judge in June ordered the commission to rehear the permit after finding proper procedure wasn't followed for the recusal.

Harbach, who lives next to the proposed monofill, said he's concerned the commission will consider new amendments Central wants to add to the original permit application.

The judge ordered the commission to consider the original permit, he contends, so any amendments should trigger a whole new permit process instead.

Central also remains out of compliance with Alaska's Water Use Act at the property, according to the state Division of Mining, Land and Water. That issue is related to three gravel pit ponds on the site with fluctuating water levels, a problematic dam, and unstable embankments, state officials say.

The company had also hoped to build a similar monofill in Chugiak. But a monofill proposal was removed from a larger Eklutna Inc. land-use proposal for the area last year.

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