Viewpoint: Creating a great landfill legacy
By Brian Tippetts
A landfill may be viewed as an out-of-sight, out-of-mind operation or as something worse: a community ogre. The reality is a landfill can be a conservation jewel and a source of great value for local residents.
Modern landfills control hundreds or even 1,000s of acres. Large or small, active or closed, they can affect their communities during their operational life and long afterwards. Too often overlooked is its long-term legacy, and how its end-use will affect the community.
A landfill property, footprint and buffer, can be repurposed for a variety of uses but is best done with a solid, credible plan, which includes:
- A clearly articulated vision;
- An implementation schedule (The schedule can be something other than the calendar);
- Partial implementation done immediately; and
- A funding source.
Too few landfills have developed great end-use plans that actually will provide tangible benefits to their communities. An end-use plan with the vague description of “open green space” or the idea that “we’ll wait and figure it out later” doesn’t add value.
If the property’s end-use plan doesn’t create long-term value or isn’t credible, fears of possible poor outcomes will depress area land values and related tax revenues. Depressed property values near a landfill hurt not only those land owners, but also the rest of the taxing jurisdiction, who will see an increase in their taxes to make up for depressed property values near the landfill area.
If, on the other hand, the landfill has a great operational record and an attractive end-use plan, property values close to the landfill will benefit. Properties further away from the landfill will also benefit by seeing a collective commensurate tax offset.
A landfill property end-use plan should take a multi-use resource approach. This approach would enable protection of the landfill’s environmental infrastructure while also providing for recreational opportunities. Depending on site specifics, those could include quality natural areas, hiking, birding, biking and many other activities.
Certainly, part of the landfill property might be planned for recycling operations, waste transfer and appropriate development. However, landfill owners can act in the interest of the community, now, and in the future. This can happen through permanently establishing natural areas, creating naturalized stormwater control, providing low-impact recreational opportunities and connecting to neighboring ecological and recreational areas. Such ecological restorations may take place only in landfill buffers or possibly throughout the entire site.
With a little extra planning, a landfill can be a safe and compliant operation while also providing the community with a great landfill legacy. A beneficial end-use vision for the property will create a valuable community jewel, if not today, in the future.
Your grandchildren — and taxpayers — will thank you.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.
Brian Tippetts is the treasurer for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and the Director for the Solid Waste Division of Applied Ecological Services.