Intense windstorms sent a deluge of plastic bags and other debris into farm fields north of the new Logan landfill early this year, prompting the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to seek mitigation measures.
The Idaho agency estimated 6 tons of plastic, paper, cardboard and other waste were blown across the Utah-Idaho border from the North Valley Landfill over the winter and into spring.
Normally, the landfill crew is able to pick up scattered litter with the help of Cache County Jail inmates sent out on work details, but the coronavirus pandemic put a temporary stop to the practice, and a handful of particularly strong windstorms added to the problem.
“It got a little bit out of hand; I’ll be honest with you,” Logan City Environmental Director Issa Hamud said, noting that his department is developing a mitigation plan in cooperation with the Idaho DEQ that will include adding segments of 30-foot high fencing on the north side of the landfill, delaying truck off-loading when the wind is up, and reorienting the “working face” of the landfill to block winds.
Hamud said the landfill was closed during the crisis, giving workers at the facility time to clean up much of the off-site litter.
Scott Vasholtz, a city councilman in Weston, Idaho, whose town sits about 5 miles northeast of the landfill, begs to differ.
“Unless they took an army of prisoners up there and spent days and days and days cleaning this mess up, then I would have a tough time believing that,” he said. “Go two miles into Idaho and you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of white specks in the fields.”
After speaking with Vasholtz on Tuesday, The Herald Journal visited the area and surveyed the litter along Stink Creek Road between the landfill and Weston. Although there was a lot of scattered debris just north of the landfill, little was visible from the road on the Idaho side of the border.
Kevin Ashby, who runs a cattle operation near the junction of Stink Creek Road and Weston Canon Road, offered an account similar to that of Vasholtz but said a big windstorm early in the week swept a lot of the litter out.
“It’s all been blown up to Dayton,” he said.
In a Weston City Council meeting earlier this month, Vasholtz complained that 13 tons of landfill pollution had been estimated on the Idaho side of the border, but Idaho DEQ Regional Director Bruce Olenick said the actual estimate was 6 tons.
“We got a complaint from the city of Weston about garbage blowing into Idaho … We went down and investigated, and lo and behold we did find that a significant amount of windblown trash did make its way into Idaho,” Olenick said.
The IDEQ sent an assessment of the situation along with recommendations for better containment of trash to both the city of Logan and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. In addition to the taking the initial mitigation steps, Logan has agreed to do an engineering assessment to see what else might be done.
When asked if any punitive measures or legal action was considered in reaction to the trash buildup, Olenick said, “We would never do something like that unless it was egregious. This happened. You know they had a series of storms come through and it caught them off guard, and on top of that the COVID issue hit and they had no personnel to go out and help collect the garbage, so they were hit on both sides, and we get it.”
Even with landfill modifications, Hamud acknowledged blowing trash will always be a problem at the North Valley Landfill, as it is with most other landfills.
“It’s not something that will go away. It’s something that we need to stay on all the time,” he said. “We have to have people there all the time. The sheriff has been really generous in providing people to help us, but transporting them in the same vehicle is not possible right now.”
Periods of closure at the North Valley Landfill are always an option, Hamud said, since the old landfill just east of Logan is still operational. In fact, it has been taking construction waste even since the opening of the new landfill because much of this is too heavy to process at the transfer station, where Logan Landfill visitors unload trash for shipment north.
In Weston, meanwhile, long-festering frustrations over the new landfill don’t appear to be buried. At a recent meeting of the Weston City Council, Vasholtz suggested town officials seek groundwater testing reports from the site to ensure pollution isn’t affecting residents on the Idaho side of the border.
“I would be interested to see what those results are because if they aren’t good, they probably shouldn’t be able to do anything out there,” Vasholtz said. “If they’re coming back fine, then more power to them, then they can continue to do what they’re doing, but they shouldn’t be allowed to continue letting their waste blow all the way into Idaho, inundating farm fields. How are you going to harvest the land if your combine is filling up with plastic and cardboard, you name it.”
Hamud said groundwater samples are taken from the site quarterly and a report on the water quality is sent to the state each year. The last report, sent in February, found no significant contamination.
That said, Hamud indicated he is willing to talk with Weston officials about all issues related to the landfill.
“We want to be good neighbors, and I will take this seriously. I don’t want anyone to be negatively effected by our operation at all,” he said.