Melanie and Dick Wilkie are spending $20,000 remodeling their West Plains home to get a better view of the wheat field across the street.
On Saturday, they and their neighbors received notice that Spokane County has been asked to approve a landfill in the field.
About 90 people gathered Wednesday night to learn about the proposal from the third-largest waste-collection company in America.
Already, neighbors have collected more than 100 signatures opposing the plan.
“Why would you put a landfill in a populated area?” one woman asked during Wednesday’s meeting in a neighbor’s back yard. “We live here. This is our home.”
Sanifill of Washington Inc., a branch of Sanifill USA, operates a 40-acre landfill in the rural neighborhood just west of Fairchild Air Force Base. The company wants to expand to another 251 acres to the north and west.
According to county records, the Graham Road Recycling and Disposal Facility opened in 1991 and was permitted to accept plaster, asbestos and “inert” materials such as broken asphalt and concrete. Much of the material is recycled rather than buried.
It was upgraded to a “limited purpose” landfill in 1994. That designation allowed Sanifill to add three lined “cells,” or pits, for materials such as tires, sterilized medical wastes and soil contaminated with petroleum.
Land in the area is zoned for agricultural uses, but landfills are allowed if the operator receives a conditional use permit.
Sanifill has requested two new permits.
One would allow the company to add six lined cells on 80 acres north of the existing landfill.
The other request is for the 171-acre field outside the Wilkies’ picture windows. There, cells would not be lined and the company would accept inert materials only.
Dirt berms would surround the landfill, blocking the view from most places.
If the county approves the expansion, the company still must get operating permits from the Spokane Regional Health District. The process could take months or even years, especially for the 80-acre addition. A hearing is required at each step, and the health district may require an environmental impact statement.
“We’re looking at it very closely,” said David Swink, district director of environmental health.
Neighbors say the landfill threatens their families’ health and the value of their homes.
Most live on five or 10 acres and draw water from wells they worry will become contaminated. They fear dust, noise, traffic and rodents that might be attracted to the landfill.
“I love the breaths that I take here. They’re pure and delicious and I love them,” said resident Frank Young.
Darrel Startin, site manager for the landfill, tried to calm neighbors’ fears. Sanifill uses state-of-the-art liners that cost $150,000 per acre, he said. Water purity is monitored through 17 test wells.
Although most loads are not inspected, landfill employees watch customers unload their trucks and do random inspections, Startin said.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you we catch every little thing,” he said.
Since trash isn’t accepted, the landfill won’t stink and rodents aren’t a problem, he said.
“I’m not expanding this business to take in Seattle’s garbage,” Startin said. “We can’t do that.”
Neighbors posed hypothetical questions, and were unsatisfied by Startin’s response that “I can’t predict the future.”
What if Spokane’s trash incinerator broke down and the county asked to dump garbage at the Sanifill landfill, one person asked.
Such a change would require new permits and generate strong opposition, Startin said. But since the county issues the permits, “it’s possible. I can’t tell you it’s not.”
Startin said he would expect opposition no matter where Sanifill operated a landfill.
“We (society) create waste. I can’t help that,” he said. “It has to go somewhere.”
“But not in our back yard,” said a woman in the back of the crowd.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Proposed landfill expansion