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Butler County Landfill battles for expansion as wait period expiration looms

Butler County Landfill with two cranes in a muddy field after a rainy night.
The Butler County Landfill after a rainy October night. Photo by Jake Thompson/CoJOMC

By Geoff Exstrom, Jackson Wilford, Jake Thompson and Dylan Guinzy

Without an expansion, the owners of the Butler County landfill in David City say they will run out of room to bury the region’s trash in about six years, but whether the county board of supervisors will or should approve the expansion is up for debate.

The saga of the Butler County landfill goes back at least eight years. 

First, the landfill was pre-approved for expansion by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy in 2013. Then, two years later, Butler County Landfill’s parent company, Waste Connections, went before the Butler County board of supervisors to seek expansion. The landfill’s request was denied, prompting a lawsuit against the board by Waste Connections.

The district court ruled in favor of the landfill but after a 2016 appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, the ruling was overturned and dismissed. After Jan. 1, Waste Connections can again request an expansion.

Waste Connections manager Kelly Danielson said, the Butler County Landfill has approximately six years of life left before talks of post-closure have to begin. This is based on the average intake of waste each year which is 292,000 to 365,000 tons of trash. The expansion would increase the landfill from 145 acres to 260 acres.

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The land set aside for the potential expansion for the Butler County Landfill. Photo by Jake Thompson/CoJOMC

“We’ve been working on expansion with Butler County for 15 years,” Danielson said. “(It) has an impact on everyone that you know, in addition to the 20 people that we employ, there are other people that are employed that haul trash to us. All those people’s jobs are potentially impacted.” 

According to Danielson, Butler and surrounding county residents pay $18 to $25 per month for waste collection. Danielson also mentioned that should the landfill be denied in 2022, the price for collection is expected to increase. 

But residents who are opposed to expansion are worried about other issues as well. 

Danielson said he is optimistic that the landfill and county can reach a mutual agreement.

“We have offered them a paved road that leads to and from the landfill, some host fee associated with that would be beneficial to the county,” Danielson said.

Should the landfill be denied expansion, its waste collecting operations would be predicted to end around 2027. This affects more than just Butler County. Seven other counties in Nebraska, such as Sarpy and Seward, would also face challenges when it comes to waste collection.

“It’s going to be more expensive for them to get rid of trash because now instead of going 30 miles, they’re gonna have to go 60 miles or so,” Danielson said.

Since 2019, there have been 17 complaints filed to the Department of Environment and Energy, all mentioning the smell from the landfill entering David City limits. 

The landfill supervisor, Ryan Boyer, said he worries that the complaints will hinder the expansion process. Boyer has been working with Danielson to fulfill the requirements set up by the county’s board of directors. Some of those requirements include fixing the torn-up highway leading to the landfill as well as better paved roads.

“I believe both sides have their concerns. Some of the locals that don’t want the landfill were frustrated with the litter that was being caused by some of the haulers,” Boyer said.

One of Butler County’s board of supervisors, Ryan Svoboda, said that the issues brought up by residents of David City have been discussed by the board several times in the past. Ryan Svoboda oversees District 6 of Butler County, which is the same district the landfill falls under. Ryan Svoboda would not say which side of the debate he falls under.

“Trucks that are contracted by landfill, their drivers do not follow stop sign regulations and are constantly running stop signs. They’re going at excessive speeds, and there seems to be a lot of nails and bolts and scrape materials that causes lots of flat tired to the surrounding neighbors,” Ryan Svoboda said.

Marv Marshuck, a resident of David City, said he worries about water contamination from the landfill.

“If that thing ever springs a leak it will contaminate the water,” said Marshuck. 

Marshuck is referring to the thin liner laid at the bottom of a landfill to collect any liquids that might drain into the surrounding soil. Should a liner break, the groundwater in the area risks being contaminated. 

No compliance check done by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, since January 2019 has found any signs of contamination in the groundwater. The department inspects the landfill quarterly for nitrogen, pesticides and other chemicals that may have seeped into the groundwater.

That is just one of three primary concerns for David City residents.

Roger Svoboda, another resident of David City, said that nails falling from uncovered hauling trucks litters the roads leading to the landfill.

“If you don’t run decent tires, you’re dealing with flat tires all the time with them. When you get down to it, there’s almost no tire life,” Roger Svoboda said.

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Butler County resident Kent Polacuk stands outside on his porch. Photo by Jake Thompson/CoJOMC

Long time resident Kent Polacuk is experiencing similar issues with the nails that litter the roads. 

“There was one day that I could smell it and I work in David City. You get a humid day and it sort of lingers in the air,”  Polacuk said.

With these complaints in mind, the Butler County Landfill after a three year chore list of compliance checks by both DEE and the board will look to submit a review of their operations permit in order to go before the board to try again for expansion. 

“We bring a lot of business to the community,” Danielson said. “When we have contractors on-site, whether that’s constructing new landfills … they spend a lot of money in the local community.”