Mount Trashmore Closing for Second Time

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Look up if you need proof that the city is moving on from its historic Floods of 2008.

Trucks now have begun to haul dirt to the top of what residents affectionately call Mount Trashmore, as the process of closing and capping the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency's Site 1 landfill, which looms just downriver from downtown, has begun.

For a second and final time, the Site 1 landfill is closing forever.

The Solid Waste Agency has set today as the last day in which it will accept what is left of the city's demolition debris, though the agency says it will continue to selectively accept materials from some remaining home demolitions to fill in holes at the top of the landfill. By spring, the final work to cap the landfill will begin and should take three to four months to complete.

The Site 1 landfill, which opened in 1965 along the Cedar River in what had been the Otis Quarry, closed the first time on July 31, 2006, leaving the agency with just one active landfill, the Site 2 landfill north of Marion.

On a snowy day in January 2008, Cedar Rapids City Council members Pat Shey and Tom Podzimek put on downhill skis, imagined what the future might hold for the closed landfill and headed down the slope of garbage.

But the future took a step backward in June 2008 when historic floodwaters hit Cedar Rapids, damaging some 10 square miles of the city.

In response to the emergency, the Solid Waste Agency quickly received permission from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to uncap and reopen Site 1, which sits near the disaster area. Over the next four-plus years, the contents of flood-damaged homes and businesses and the debris from the demolition of about 1,100 homes, 540 garages and sheds and 80 commercial buildings have been buried at Site 1.

About 100 demolitions are left, with most of that debris now headed to the Site 2 landfill, Joe O'Hern, the city's head of economic development and flood recovery, said this week.

According to Joe Horaney, spokesman for the Solid Waste Agency, the agency has taken in 427,882 tons of flood debris at Site 1 between since the summer of 2008 and the end of October 2012. That amount is over and above the 190,000 tons of garbage the agency otherwise takes in during a year.

Mount Trashmore stepped up and has performed yeoman's work in the face of disaster, Karmin McShane, the agency's executive director, said this week.

"With so much of the damage literally in Site 1's backyard, getting permission to reopen to save time and hauling costs was one of the best decisions we have made," McShane said.

Horaney said the agency has been paid some $25 million in tipping fees to put the flood debris in Site 1, the greatest share of the cost of which has been paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He said about $10 million of the revenue has covered operating expenses, $3.2 million will pay for closing and capping the landfill a second time and another part of the revenue will cover ongoing, post-closure costs. The revenue also has allowed the agency to invest in a $3.2-million system to capture methane and convert it to electricity at its Site 2 landfill and to invest in a new Resource Recovery Center at Site 2.

Included in the revenue that has come to the agency from flood debris is some $10 million that is a subject of an ongoing dispute between the city of Cedar Rapids and FEMA. The city fronted the money to pay to put demolition debris from the former Sinclair packing plant in the landfill with the expectation that FEMA would reimburse the city. FEMA has decided not to, a decision the city is appealing.

Once Site 1's new cap is in place next year, the flood debris will have added between 32 and 34 feet to the top of the landfill, which will make the height of the landfill about 216 feet tall from the lowest point of its base to its peak, Brian Harthun, a Solid Waste Agency consultant and senior engineering manager at Foth Companies in Cedar Rapids, said this week.

The top of the landfill will stand about 948 feet above sea level, which is almost 80 feet higher than the highest point of ground at Mount Mercy University — often thought to be the high point in Cedar Rapids — but a few feet lower than the roofs of buildings on the campus, according to Horaney and Dennis Gehring, assistant facilities director at the university. The Site 1 landfill also is expected to lose 30 feet of height as garbage decomposes and settles, Horaney said.

Harthun said the footprint of the Site 1 landfill is a roundish area about 65 acres in size at its base, and he noted that only about a 10-acre area at the top of landfill was uncapped and reopened to take in flood debris.

Recapping the landfill, he said, will require hauling in some 100,000 cubic yards of clay and soil — about 6,700 truckloads — to cover the landfill with two feet of clay and two feet of dirt atop the clay. A foot-high layer of gravel and piping under the clay will be put in to capture landfill methane and pipe it to a central location to either burn off or perhaps to use to produce power, he added.

Mount Trashmore is a landfill of an era before the state established more rigorous standards that now require liners and other design standards at new landfills to contain the liquid that can leach from a landfill site. Mount Trashmore, Harthun said, does include a drain system around the landfill to capture runoff. State law, he added, also will require the Solid Waste Agency to actively monitor Site 1 for at least 30 years.

As for the future, in the near-term, Harthun said some years will need to pass to allow settling before the landfill is put to a new use such as a sledding and skiing hill or a climbing trail. In the near-term, the hill will sport grass, which he said it well established already on the part of the landfill that was not reopened for business in 2008.

"The biggest thing is that people are going to have to be patient with it," Harthun said. "For the first five or ten years, let it cook a little bit inside. When it gets to a certain point, it will be available for us."

He said other cities have turned landfills into golf courses, but he said they only have done so after the passing of some years.

The city of Cedar Rapids' Tait Cummins Sports Complex, 3000 C St. SW, sits on a former city dump, he noted.
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