Dillingham’s landfill cleanup is in progress
You can now drive down to the end of the landfill’s access road. Staff have pushed back the trash that spilled over it in July. And the burn pile, which two months ago had stacks of wood and cardboard two stories high, is mostly clear, with only a few remaining piles.
Dillon Cheney is a laborer at the landfill who started working there last month. He said the initial cleanup was tough.
“We got the burn cells open now,” he said. “So if you're dropping off burn, it can go in there. It doesn't have to go on the ground anymore.”
In a letter to the city last year, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) cited damaged equipment as a problem. Ralph Evalt III, a heavy equipment operator, said that since receiving working equipment this year, including a repaired loader and an excavator, and a new semi-truck, staff can better tackle projects.
“Waiting on equipment has been a big thing but we've got all of our equipment back and we've just been on a roll ever since,” he said.
The ADEC recommended the landfill address its exposed trash, saying that covering it would reduce the amount of windblown litter, scavenging animals, and waste fluid made by the garbage.
Dillingham’s city planner, Patty Buholm said the city plans to rent a large bulldozer to form and compact the trash pile so that landfill staff can cover it with rock and pit-run, which is currently on-site.
“It'll help compact the trash that's inside the cell and help shape the cell, which we want like a gradual, plateaued area,” she said.
Each year, the ADEC scores landfills on their operation. Dillingham’s landfill lost several points last year due to the lapse of their water testing program, according to state records. Most solid waste facilities in the United States are required to test groundwater for contaminants.
Buholm said there was an inconsistency between the state records and city records, and that the city has actually maintained the testing program. She said that the city put in new wells about 3 years ago, and that Bristol Environmental Services, a private company, helps the city test the water at the wells, which are located throughout the landfill. She said this is the third year wherein testing has shown no contamination at the sites.
Buholm said that the landfill recently purchased a 4-wheeler vehicle that will help staff travel efficiently to these groundwater testing wells.
Staff have also worked on recondensing the landfill’s metal scrap pile. They’ve created a 50-foot-width fire break around it. Dillingham’s metal scrap pile burned for more than a week in a fire in June of 2022. Officials at the time said spilled fuel and metal underground smoldered even after firefighters contained the main blaze.
The city is waiting on a $4.7 million grant awarded by Senator Murkowsi’s office to remove the pile, which Buholm said will free up space and extend the landfill’s longevity.
The landfill still needs repairs to its incinerator. In January 2021, the building housing the incinerator’s water supply caught fire and burned. It wasn’t a total loss. Buholm said a recent inspection shows the fire did not destroy the building’s structural beams.
“So we're in the process of measuring and ordering the needed material to reshell the interior of that building as well as a new rooftop on it, which is corrugated metal so it shouldn't be too horribly expensive to replace that,” she said.
According to Buholm the incinerator may have lost some of its parts. Now, she said, the city is seeking a specialist to inspect the incinerator and determine what needs repair. There is no set timeline to fix it.
The landfill’s next inspection is in October, when the ADEC will once again give the facility a score and make recommendations for improvements.
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