City council approves controversial purchase of site for new landfill

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) The Waco City Council Tuesday night approved the purchase of land near Axtell for a landfill.

The site surrounds the T.K. Cemetery. (Photo by Christopher Shadrock)

Hundreds of residents of eastern McLennan County and western Limestone County say they were caught by surprise by the deal the City of Waco cut for a potential landfill site in the Axtell area, but Waco’s mayor said they would have plenty of opportunities to express their concerns.

“We want to hear their concerns and we want to see what we can do to address them,” Mayor Kyle Deaver said Monday.

The council met at 6 p.m. Tuesday to consider a resolution authorizing the $1.8 million purchase of a 502-acre tract of land near the intersection of State Highway 31 and T. K. Parkway and a second resolution authorizing the filing of an application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a permit for a landfill on the site.

Despite the about 500 Axtell residents who showed up in opposition, both resolutions passed unanimously.

Axtell residents said they were disappointed by the vote but not at all surprised.

“They didn’t even take a breath between the ‘yeses,’” said one woman. “They don’t care.”

Deaver explained the council’s reasoning.

“It is essential that we locate and begin the permitting process on a new landfill site because we now have about five years of life left in our current landfill,” he said to the crowd. “The bottom line is that this region needs a new landfill, without one we will lose local control of our solid waste operations, which we would expect to lead to dramatically increased disposal costs over time.”

Tamarah Sharp left Woodway five years ago to move to Axtell, and says putting a landfill there is not the answer.

“No, we don’t have subdivisions and the ‘hustle and bustle’ of everything that Waco, Woodway, China Spring and all these areas do here that are closer into town, but we are still people, we still matter, just because we live in the country does not mean that we need to have this dumped on us,” said Sharp.

Around 50 people approached the council to publicly voice their concerns, not one was in support of an Axtell landfill.

“I think the main concern is health and safety,” said 22-year Axtell resident and mother Jennifer Short. “We’re a small community, and we don’t have room for big business or big piles of trash.”

One councilman said they were trying to impact as few people as possible, and believed the process would get better over time.

“I’m hopeful that as we move forward there will be increased peace established,” said Dillon Meek.

Sharp said they’ve awoken a sleeping giant.

“The real fight begins now,” she said.

The property is across from a ranch owned by Fred Swaner.

"The biggest problem is their lack of transparency,” Swaner said Monday.

“Who am I supposed to believe when no one has told the truth up to this point?" he said.

Swaner, a third generation rancher, says if the sale goes through, there will still be a fight.

"In the event that it does go through, I can almost envision long, lengthy legal issues and so if that's what we want to do, that's the way it'll play out."

The city quietly placed the site, which surrounds the T.K. Cemetery, under contract.

That’s fairly standard procedure to ensure speculators don’t drive up the cost of property under consideration.

Deaver said the owner of the property may not even have known for what purpose the city wanted the tract.

"I don't know whether he knew,” Deaver said Monday.

“It's entirely possible that he did not know what it was going to be."

Part of the land is in Limestone County and officials there were also surprised to learn the tract was under contract as a potential landfill site.

That would mean a loss of tax revenue and could reduce the value of neighboring properties, a county official said Monday.

The city began looking for potential sites after encountering strong opposition to the initial plan to build a new landfill on a 270-acre site bounded by Highway 84 and Old Lorena Road adjacent to the existing landfill.

Last fall city staffers presented the Waco City Council with three potential alternatives during a closed-door meeting.

“All three sites had serious flaws,” said Deaver.

The flaws led the council to direct city staff to explore sites more than 15 miles outside of Waco, “bringing us here” Deaver explained.

Hundreds of Axtell area residents gathered Sunday night ahead of Tuesday night’s special council meeting to voice their concerns and create a united front over the proposed landfill.

Deaver acknowledges the issue is a sensitive one and it’s one with which he’s been dealing for nearly two years.

“Look, nobody wants a landfill anywhere near them, but everybody needs a landfill,” he said.

When the Highway 84 site opened in the early 1990's, it was anticipated that the dump would take in 635 tons of trash per day.

That number has increased to 1,643 tons per day, which is more than double the amount originally anticipated.

Waco residents and businesses account for more than 60 percent of the trash delivered to the landfill, Deaver said.

The rest comes from surrounding areas.

The Waco landfill serves 11 counties.