Cheyenne may stop shipping its trash to Colorado

CHEYENNE A recent drone flyover of the city’s Happy Jack Landfill indicates the landfill has more space than previously thought, meaning the city may soon stop sending most of its waste south of the border.

Since 2008, the Happy Jack Landfill, located 10 miles west of Cheyenne, has been closed to most municipal waste, as officials believed it only had two to three years of capacity left. If that capacity is exhausted, it would force the landfill to “cap and close,” a lengthy, expensive process that would have left Cheyenne with nowhere else to dump its waste.

In the time since then, the city has been working with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on a permit to expand the landfill, which would provide an additional 30 years of capacity or more. Though the process is slow, the city is getting close to having that permit, with final approval about a year away, according to Public Works Director Vicki Nemecek.

Once a permit for the landfill expansion is in hand, Nemecek said the expansion itself would be done by December 2020. In the meantime, to avoid a mandated closure of the existing landfill, the city has been instead shipping its municipal solid waste to Ault, Colorado, some 45 miles south of town.

But that hasn’t been cheap, with the tipping fees alone costing about $1.2 million a year, plus the costs to fuel and maintain the vehicles making the 90 mile round trip every time Cheyenne brings a load of trash.

But that may not be the case for much longer. As work has continued on Cheyenne’s landfill expansion permit, the contractor doing much of the permit legwork Solid Waste Professionals of Wyoming made a surprising discovery.

“They flew a drone over the existing landfill, and they looked at our facility and found waste had not been placed up to the edge of the liner,” Nemecek said.

Where the city originally believed the current landfill only had two or three years of capacity left, Solid Waste Professionals concluded it’s actually closer to six years. And there’s more: they also believe the current landfill can be expanded upward, as well as outward, without overflowing the synthetic liner that protects local groundwater resources.

“We have the ability to place more waste on top of that landfill liner because we didn’t go all the way to the edge yet,” Nemecek said. “So what we’ve asked for is a modification to our contract, so instead of using some of our funds to cap and close our current working area, we are going to use those to design a vertical expansion.”

Without an expansion permit, the city cannot begin a vertical expansion right away that approval would come at the same time as the horizontal expansion, sometime late next year. But the revelation about the existing landfill capacity means the city now has the extra wiggle room it needs to stop sending its waste to Ault without fear of reaching capacity before the new expansion is done.

And even if the horizontal expansion won’t be done until late 2020, the vertical expansion could begin earlier, adding as much as six more years of capacity to the existing landfill.

“We are comfortable that we can start taking trash now because we’ll have space with the vertical expansion,” Nemecek said. “We’ll start saving $1.2 million a year by doing that, and we’ll start saving more quickly for the horizontal expansion. Economically, it’s huge.”

Nemecek said she initially thought the city would need to borrow at least some of the $10 million to $12 million needed for the landfill’s outward expansion. But since the current contract with Ault will end in late February or early March, she believes cheap jerseys the savings will allow the city to instead pay for the expansion solely through user fees.

“It still depends on the timing, but we’re hoping to be able to fund the expansion with cash,” she said.

Landfill Manager Randy Melton said he’s excited about what it would mean to stop shipping city trash to Colorado. For one, it would give the city more leeway to chart its own path without being beholden to an outside company’s whims.

“What would Cheyenne do if, for whatever reason, Ault, Colorado, Waste Management were to decide, ‘We don’t want your waste anymore?’” Melton said. “If Waste Management decides their landfill is filling too fast, there’s nothing stopping them from doubling their fees.”

Melton thinks returning municipal waste to the local landfill could also benefit Cheyenne from an economic standpoint. He said that any company looking to move here would have to consider how much waste they generate, and how much it costs to ship that waste to its final destination. Less travel distance, he said, equals less cost in the long run, and the 20 mile round trip to Happy Jack is substantially shorter than the journey to and from Ault.

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