April 1, 1995

7 Min Read
Transforming A Disaster Into An Award Winner

Paul B. Harder

Early reports from the Greater Lebanon Refuse Au-thority (GLRA) in central Pennsylvania were disturbing: People were dumping trash all over the county. Residents rarely used the county's eight landfills, most of which were unattended. In fact, only the largest site had an office - the hood of the superintendent's pickup truck.

Considering this scenario, it's hard to imagine that in a few years, GLRA transformed this unimpressive operation into an award-winning facility. In fact, in 1994, GLRA was the recipient of the prestigious Landfill Excellence Program award, sponsored by the Solid Waste Associa-tion of North America (SWANA).

The Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority's history is evidence of how dramatically and quickly poor solid waste disposal practices can be changed.

Often, progressive developments in solid waste handling are identified with large operations run by the politically and financially powerful. But GLRA is not large, nor is it politically powerful or wealthy. In fact, its state-of-the-art landfill is small (less than 300 tpd), was funded from GLRA revenue bonds and prospers through prudent use of a tipping fee which, at the end of 1994, was $53.64 per ton.

Lebanon County, GLRA's service area, covers 300 square miles of central Pennsylvania farmland. Most of its 113,000 residents live in and around Lebanon, the county seat and the area's commercial and financial center. The rest live in scattered farming communities of less than 10,000.

Time To Act In the mid-'50s, as a reaction to the area's casual ap-proach to solid waste disposal, the newly-formed GLRA decided to lease/purchase a 64-acre site for a central landfill to serve 26 municipalities. Next, GLRA passed ordinances regulating residential and commercial collection and disposal.

By 1987, Pennsylvania had passed Act 94, which contained some of the most stringent landfill regulations in the country. Among its requirements, the Act closed sites that did not meet its environmental standards.

One year later, GLRA began planning a new 30-year, seven-pad double lined landfill that complies with Pen-nsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (PADER) regulations. Within three years, GLRA was compacting waste in the facility's first cells.

The Authority hired Martin and Martin Inc. of Cham-bersburg, Pa., to design the new 60-acre landfill complex and to design and manage the old site's closure.

Closure of the old, unlined 60-acre site, which was adjacent to the new landfill, began immediately. The cost for closure, post-closure monitoring and remediation totaled $8 million; con- struction of the new facility, in-cluding building the first of seven double-lined disposal pads, a lea-chate treatment facility, equipment shop and offices, cost a-nother $6.7 million.

With a waste volume too small to attract private investors, GLRA had to design, build and operate the facility, financing the undertaking with $14.7 million in revenue bonds. Tipping fees cover the cost of retiring these bonds and all GLRA operating expenses.

The Authority's initial Standard & Poors bond rating was bbb- be-cause of a lack of bonded financing history; after meeting PADER requirements, and successfully managing the facility's construction schedule, the GLRA's bond rating was changed to an a-.

Public support and careful management of tipping fees are key to the success of GLRA's solid waste program. Part of the $53.64 per ton tipping fee funds the old site's closure and debt servicing, while the balance, $25.02, is earmarked for the new site's operation and debt servicing.

Of the $25.02 used for the new site, $6.32 is for regulatory fees, $8.70 covers operating costs and $10.00 is for debt servicing. In-cluded in the new landfill's operating costs is $2.38 per ton for e-quipment replacement; $2.00 for equipment also is part of the budgeted closure costs.

Unlike larger landfills which are able to make productive use of single-use machines, GLRA searches for equipment that can perform several tasks. Superin-tendent Terry Mauser introduced this concept at Pennsylvania's GLRA more than 15 years ago.

A couple of years later, GLRA bought a multi-task Caterpillar 973 track loader. At the time, it was the only machine used for soil excavation and loading, trash spreading and compacting and spreading soil cover. Now, with a much larger volume and more equipment, the Au-thority uses two of these track loaders, augmented by specialized com- pactors, dozers, excavators, trucks and wheel loaders.

In addition to trash and soil cover work, loaders are used to load and unload flatbed trucks and trailers; excavate, grade and gravel roads; load a 35-ton off-highway truck; bucket snow; and push down trees and dig stumps.

Both track loaders are equipped with a waste disposal package, in-cluding heavy engine guarding, guards for front idlers, lights, hy-draulic valves and cylinders and fi-nal drives.

Operating The New Site The second and third pads of the new landfill currently are out for bid. The first pad, which is already partially filled, covers 14 acres; others will range from four to six acres. When filled, total pad depth will be up to 100 feet; the life of the landfill is projected to be approximately 28 years.

Pennsylvania's landfill regulations mandate a double synthetic liner with separate leachate collection and inspection zones. Because it requires less soil for final capping, the double liner helps Pennsylvania operators who face a shortage of cover material.

Mauser has instituted several controls to protect the critical and costly double liners when trash is dumped, spread and compacted. First, the loads of incoming trash are visually screened at the scale house for un-desirable wastes, including pieces of steel and large boards. Crews also perform more thorough checks of in-dividual loads. Trash is dumped a-way from the active face and is in-spected again as it falls from the truck.

Operators spread and compact the trash using a track loader, with final compacting performed by a Cat 826C landfill compactor. When a daily cell is finished the track loader levels the top, then spreads the soil cover.

By using the track loader for the initial spreading, Superintendent Mauser eliminates the chance for the compactor's tipped wheels to punch through the leachate flow zone and its underlying primary li-ner.

After eight feet of pre-compacted trash rests over the leachate collection zone, the 826C compacts the successive two foot lifts, including the active face.

The loaders excavate cover soil at an on-site borrow, then load it into either a Cat 769C 35-ton off-highway truck or Moxy 38-ton articulated truck. Finally, the soil is heap-dumped near the back of the active cell. The heaps are re-piled to in-crease cell work area and, in the case of rain, reduce water absorption.

Because soil for cover is limited, in 1992 GLRA began selective use of TerraFoam for daily cover of the active cell. "It's just like a huge sheet of fly paper," said GLRA Executive Director Michael Pavelek. Along with better compaction, the foam reportedly has reduced GLRA's soil-to-waste ratio from 1:1 ten years ago to 1:8 today.

Closing The Old Landfill The $8 million cost to close the old landfill is more than the landfill grossed in its twenty-year life. The closure includes capping, methane gas control, filling of old stormwater ponds and redirecting stormwater runoff.

The old landfill will be sealed with a 40-mil VLDPE membrane sandwiched in a matrix of geonet and geotextile. The sealed site will be covered with dirt and mulch, contoured and planted.

To protect groundwater from lea-chate, the site will include stormwa- ter runoff channels, dikes and collection ponds and groundwater re-mediation wells.

By coordinating phased closure work with daily active landfill operations, and using the same multi-task equipment on both projects, Mauser has efficiently used his basic landfill equipment fleet and experienced op-erators.

To help offset some of the closure costs, GLRA collects $50,000 a year for the methane generated at the old site. An on-site co-generation power plant produces 2 mW for the local power grid.

Like most facilities, equipment purchase and maintenance is important. A reserve account funded by a portion of the tipping fees provides for future equipment needs.

In addition, guaranteed buy-back clauses in equipment purchase contracts help control costs and project equipment life. Maintenance costs and equipment downtime are both limited by trading in tracked equipment after 4,000 operating hours and other equipment after 6,000 hours.

What started as an ineffective and uncontrolled eyesore in Pennsylva-nia's Lebanon County is now a state-of-the-art, self-supporting solid waste and recycling complex that blends into the surrounding farmland. The transformation is so complete that the site is attracting visitors to its trails, picnic areas and a restored portion of a historic barge canal which crosses part of the property.

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