published Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Walker County, Ga., eyes trash-energy facility plan

Fred Burden of Flintstone Garbage unloads his customers' household garbage at the Walker County Landfill. Household garbage from Walker County, Ga., is shipped to Athens, Tenn.
Fred Burden of Flintstone Garbage unloads his customers' household garbage at the Walker County Landfill. Household garbage from Walker County, Ga., is shipped to Athens, Tenn.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Walker County, Ga., has its garbage trucked off for disposal 70 miles away in a landfill near Athens, Tenn.

The county has exported its trash -- now averaging 81 tons per day -- since 1998, when its landfill ran out of room.

But trash could start flowing into Walker County if a waste-to-energy facility decides to set up shop there.

The county recently sought bids from waste-haulers to take away its trash and asked that the hauler be able to ship 650 tons per day -- eight times what Walker County generates -- into the county's transfer station on Marbletop Road to feed a waste-to-energy facility.

Two companies have approached Walker County officials with the idea of opening such a facility, Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell and Economic Development Director Larry Brooks said.

"We don't know if they're coming or not," Heiskell said. "They contact us from time to time."

One possibility, they said, is a plant that would convert household trash into diesel fuel. Brooks traveled to South Carolina to see a small-scale trash-to-fuel plant.

"Can you imagine the benefits of taking trash ... and it being converted into something that can be used?" he asked.

Brooks said the technology is in its infancy, and it might be years before such a plant opened in Walker County.

"A lot of the technology is still in the developmental stage," he said. "I think we're a ways out before something like this happens."

Heiskell and Brooks declined to identify the companies that expressed interest in opening the plant. County officials typically are close-mouthed about prospective new businesses.

Neither Brooks nor Heiskell thought any emissions from a waste-to-energy plant would annoy residents.

Trash typically is hauled in semitrailers that can hold 40 tons. If the county had 650 tons trucked in, that would mean about 16 semitrailer loads a day.

"Six hundred and fifty tons is not really that much trash," Brooks said.

"Better deal"

Cost is another reason why the county put its trash-hauling contract out to bid, county officials said. The current 15-year contract wasn't due to expire until July 1, 2016.

"We just put it out there to see if we can get a better deal," Landfill Director Bill Byrd said.

The county's trash-hauling and disposal contract is with Environmental Trust Co. It's owned by Waste Connections Inc., a company that does trash hauling, waste transfer, landfill disposal and recycling in 29 states mostly in the South and West. It's traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Heiskell said three companies put in bids:

• Waste Connections Inc.

• Republic Services, which has a Chattanooga office. It formerly was known as Allied Waste and before that BFI Waste.

• Santek Waste Services Inc.

A consultant is helping Walker County officials analyze the bids, Heiskell said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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