May 08, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Throwing away garbage becomes so routine for the average household that people rarely think about where the garbage is going and what happens after it gets there.

But they should, because its going to cost more to dump it.

Union County leaders have been thinking about what happens to household garbage after it has sat awhile in the countys Fox Hill landfill. Over the years, garbage from households and businesses throughout the county has piled up and the landfill is nearly full.

For the past several years, county officials have been wrestling with the problems associated with closing a dump full of garbage. Federal and state environmental agencies have strict requirements for sealing the waste and preventing gases and liquids from seeping out of the dirt container and contaminating ground and water.

The first step to closing the landfill will come May 21, when a contractor, Delhur Industries Inc. of Hermiston, begins placing the hydraulic barrier over the lower part of the dump.

The hydraulic barrier is a type of thick clay similar to the clay found in front yards and fields throughout Union County. The clay covers a base of rock or other dirt that has been placed as the first layer of cover.

We can use almost anything for the first layer, said county planner Hanley Jenkins.

After the clay is in place, a layer of topsoil, scarce in Union County, is installed. The finished cover contains three layers, sealing in the garbage. The cost to close the six acres in the lower landfill will be $300,000, but Jenkins said the lower area is the steepest on the hill.

There is much more land to cover. The entire area is 18 acres. Union County government has set aside a little more than $800,000 to do the job, which has been estimated to cost as much as $1.2 million.

Although there is enough dirt to close the first six acres, there is not enough dirt to cover the entire landfill. There is plenty of heavy clay, but not enough rock or topsoil.

And thats the problem. Finding topsoil and other dirt can be costly. Jenkins has calculated that if the landfill closes in two years, it will need an additional 18,000 cubic yards of cover material. If the landfill stays open for another five years, 100,000 cubic yards will be needed.

The county commissioners must balance the costs of hauling in dirt against the costs of hauling out garbage to a regional landfill. They are expected to choose the least expensive route.

Either way, householders will pay more to dump garbage.

As the landfill gradually closes, a recycling center, the Material Recycling Facility, may open on Highway 30 just south of La Grande.

Owned by Ron Larvik, owner of City Garbage Service, the recycling center is expected to eventually become the place where people take their garbage and trash. There, a system of conveyor belts sorts recyclables from garbage, and from the center, the countys solid waste will be hauled to a regional landfill.

Nobody knows when the recycling center will open. Originally, it was expected to open last July, but the method of calculating the amount of garbage in a load is changing from volume to weight, and the costs must be analyzed.

Larvik has told the county commissioners that he has been running test loads through the center, and when he has calculated the costs, he will present a


The new recycling center will not affect City Garbage Services existing center on Willow Street, which will remain open.

The county commissioners will continue to discuss dumping and moving garbage during their regular meeting May 16.