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Denton City Council ends landfill mining

The Denton City Council agreed Tuesday to end the city’s landfill mining program before it ever began.

During an afternoon work session, Ethan Cox, the city’s new director of solid waste, gave council members a short briefing before they quickly dispatched with their decision to cut the losses.

“I really don’t see any need to continue with this project,” said Mayor Chris Watts.

The move is expected to immediately save the department about $500,000 and could help stabilize rates. Residents have seen their garbage and recycling bills increase about 45 percent since 2011.

Cox made a similar presentation to the Denton Public Utilities Board two weeks ago. PUB members agreed then that the program needed to be shelved.

The city staff recently audited the so-called “landfill mining” program.

Trash buried in one part of the city dump was sealed in such a way that the previous director of solid waste recommended it be excavated and the recyclables sold. The City Council first approved the program in 2015. Despite an investment of more than $3.5 million in equipment, staff and other expenses, no mining had begun. 

During the audit, it became apparent that neither the PUB nor the City Council ever saw detailed financial projections before approving the program, Cox said.

The program was originally projected to net the city about $16 million. Some of that value would have come as revenue from selling the recyclable materials. Other value would have come from recovered space — where trash could be buried again.

The department now expects to lose about $14 million on the project. Previous estimates overvalued both the cost of recovered space and the sales value of the recyclables for Denton, Cox said. 

Council member Sara Bagheri noted that the excavators would need to find $10 million in unspecified “bulky materials” in order to meet the original projection. Fellow council member Keely Briggs noted that the section to be mined had the equivalent of just two years of space.

Under current conditions, the city has enough space to bury trash until 2030. The city is also expanding the landfill, having bought land and sought a permit, that would extend the life of the site for another 60 to 70 years, Cox said.

Cox told council members that the department was reassigning people who were hired for mining to other operations at the landfill. The trucks and other heavy equipment can be used elsewhere.

“A lot of the equipment can be used in our building materials diversion,” Cox said.

Builders and renovators bring construction materials to the dump, but city workers reclaim as much of it as possible, rather than bury it.

The city’s best opportunity to extend the life of the landfill even further is to divert as much waste as possible, Cox said.

“That’s where the opportunity is, not in digging it up,” Cox said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.

In Other Action

During its regular meeting Tuesday, the Denton City Council also:

  • Adopted the 2017-18 budget, a $1.1 billion spending program, supported by a property tax rate of 63.7856 cents per $100 valuation.

  • Adopted utility rates for the 2017-18 year with no increase for water, sewer or garbage collection and a slight decrease in electric rates.

  • Awarded a $1.1 million contract to widen and rebuild Mockingbird Lane to Lane Construction.

  • Amended the 2016-17 budget to allow for $4.2 million in adjustments to the general fund and $13 million to the electric fund.

  • Amended its annual contract (for $238,836) with the Denton Chamber of Commerce to include specific deliverables, such as site visits from companies interested in relocating to Denton 

  • Approved a revised community sponsorship program for Denton Municipal Electric to align its grant-making with city policies.

  • Directed planning staff to allow musicians to set up recording studios at home without requiring a special permit.

  • Began appointments to a new ad hoc committee that will determine the future use of City Hall West.

  • Approved a new agreement for operating the Gibbons Creek coal-fired power plant after the sale of the plant fell through.

  • Approved an agreement with a landowner to secure an easement for a new sewer line in the 1400 block of North Loop 288.

  • Awarded a three-year contract for equipment repair services to Altec Industries for $200,000; for electric distribution supplies to Techline for $180,000 and Irby Utilities for $200,000; for traffic signal equipment to multiple vendors for $1.3 million; and for janitorial services in city buildings to AHI Facility Services for $3.4 million.

  • Agreed to pay Atmos Energy $220,078 to move a gas pipeline and to pay $338,593 to Oncor to move electric equipment for the widening of Mayhill Road.

  • Approved agreements with the North Central Texas Council of Governments for various digital mapping services for $107,905.

  • Agreed to participate in the Deer Oaks Employee Assistance Program for $87,000.

FEATURED PHOTO: A worker takes out any material in this pile that is not made out of wood at ECO-W.E.R.C.S. Resource Recovery Park, the city's landfill, in February. Once everything is sorted out, the wood will be turned into compost.
DRC file photo/Jeff Woo