Milner Landfill required to upgrade infrastructure to continue accepting liquid waste
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The Milner Landfill, operated by Twin Enviro Services, will be allowed to continue to accept liquid waste, including waste from oil and gas production, after Routt County commissioners voted to amend a land use permit for the facility.
The landfill’s permit was reviewed in light of a violation notice issued by the state earlier this year. Several of these violations impact the landfill’s solidification basin, the pool where nonhazardous liquid waste is mixed with coal ash to solidify it so it can be thrown away.
Though the state regulates the landfill’s operations, the county determines how the landfill uses the land. The landfill is allowed to operate because of a county-issued special use permit. This is the document that was up for revision.
Both the Board of County Commissioners and the Routt County Planning Commission approved amendments to the landfill’s permit. The amendment mirrors requirements issued by the state.
“The public needs to know that we don’t take this lightly, and I know you guys don’t take this lightly,” Commissioner Doug Monger told landfill owner Les Liman. “You all have a responsibility to be responsible operators, and it’s our responsibility to be a responsible regulator of those things — to make sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed and the rest.”
The landfill will be required to update the liner of the solidification basin, which recently failed a test of its strength. The state is also not confident in the landfill’s leak detection system in the solidification basin.
“We don’t believe there are any current integrity issues,” said Curt Stovall, a regulator at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment during the meeting on Tuesday. “A test for strength failed. It doesn’t indicate that the liner failed, it just doesn’t have quite as much strength as it did when it was installed 10 years ago.”
The landfill will be allowed to operate the solidification basin through Oct. 31, at which time its state approval will expire.
Twin Enviro has been given a couple of options to move forward. The landfill can update the liner in the solidification basin and continue to accept oil and gas waste, or the company can choose to accept fewer types of liquid waste, which would allow for a temporary extension until October 2019. Regardless, regulators have said they will not allow the solidification basin to continue operating after October 2019 without an updated liner.
The commissioners added one line to the conditions of approval, which allows the planning director to approve changes to the timeline of replacing the liner should Department of Public Health and Environment change their conditions outlining when the landfill will be required to replace the liner or stop accepting liquid waste. The change is intended to allow an amendment to the timeline to be approved administratively, without working its way through the planning commission and county commissioners’ approval process.
“We haven’t decided if we’re going to replace the liner or not,” Liman said. “For the volume of waste, it’s a very expensive requirement. We need to evaluate that.”
During the planning meeting, Liman said it was a $100,000 upgrade.
The required upgrade would have Twin Enviro add a liner made of a stronger, thicker material atop the existing liner to establish a backup containment measure. The thicker liner would also bring the landfill up to code so it could to continue to accept oil and gas exploration and production waste.
In a planning meeting on July 5, Liman said the landfill had not received any of this oil and gas waste in the past three years. During the county commission meeting on Tuesday, county planner Alan Goldich said Twin Enviro acknowledged that this statement was made in error.
“I just simply made a mistake, and it was just a misinterpretation of the language,” Liman said.
The landfill accepted 38,000 gallons of exploration and production waste in 2016 and 21,000 gallons in 2017, Twin Enviro’s environmental compliance officer Luke Schneider said during the commission meeting. The landfill has not received any exploration and production waste in 2018, he added.
“That’s a really, really small number,” Liman said. “I mean a tanker truckload is 7,000 gallons or so, 6,500 gallons, so you’re talking about three or four tanker truckloads in the last couple years.“
The landfill has not been accepting any liquid waste recently, because Xcel Energy, the majority owner of Hayden Station, has halted deliveries of the coal ash used to mix liquids into solids in the solidification basin, Liman said.
“We have zero ash,” Liman said. “We’ve been cut off. We can’t take any liquids.”
A statement included in the planning meeting staff packet was eventually retracted. It stated “there is an immediate and high risk of contamination of ground water (sic) and soil and a potential threat to downstream drinking water supplies.”
Goldich said this statement was based upon staff’s understanding of a water test that indicated a possible leak. Regulators at the Department of Public Health and Environment told the county they disagreed with the statement, and upon learning more about the situation, the county retracted the statement, Goldich said. He added that additional monitoring is in place to detect a leak, he said.
Liman said this retracted statement led Excel Energy to discontinue its deliveries of coal ash on July 2. Liman added that he asked the county commissioners advocate on the landfill’s behalf to reinstate deliveries of coal ash.
Liman said the landfill accepts about 200,000 gallons of nonhazardous liquid waste per year, primarily made up of waste from Routt County car washes and auto shops.
“That waste has no place to go, at least no place to go locally,” Liman said.
Though it was presented as an option, the commissioners voiced opposition to shutting down the solidification basin.
“People don’t always transport waste when landfills get shut down,” Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said. “Sometimes, they go back to the old ways.”
Monger agreed, expressing concern for the beauty of Routt County and stating that without the landfill, waste would likely be dumped on rural roads.
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