After it appeared Santek Waste Services and Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission were honing in on the final aspects of a contract modification in the works for more than year, the landfill operator shifted course.

Proposed changes were presented to the solid waste board during an April 9 meeting. A summary sheet distributed by Santek notes a security fee analysis revealed unsuitable calculations.

“The tonnages considered derive from annual averages over the past several years,” Ben Johnston, Santek representative, said in an email correspondence. “The recent revisions are structured to reduce the liability for the authority on a go-forward basis, without dramatically altering the footprint of the landfill.”

Of the scenarios considered, only one kept the security fee less than $2 per ton throughout the remainder of the contract and through the proposed extension to 2034.

As a means to remove “unknown variables,” Santek proposed provisions to operate the landfill through the life of a proposed 53-acre footprint rather than a fixed date, which includes a 13-acre lateral expansion. Santek would continue paying the solid waste board the current $1 per ton security fee and bond the landfill’s closure cost through a performance bond.

The existing security fee fund of $2.1 million, along with the additional current $1 per ton security fee and interest earned, would be used to support the board’s post-closure obligation.

Total post-closure liability is about $2.6 million, according to information provided by Johnston.

“We still have some areas, some gaps to close,” Steve Field, solid waste board chairman, said. “I think really the big challenge for the board is what kind of potential duration are they willing to sign up to in terms of how long the contract’s going to last? Santek kind of changed the equation by going for this life of the footprint model and it’s just a question of whether the board’s comfortable with the 53 acres they’re proposing or if the board’s going to try to change that somehow.”

Board members plan a special called meeting for 6:30 p.m. April 30 at the Loudon County Courthouse Annex to discuss Santek’s proposed changes.

“I ain’t going to sit there and say that we’ve come to the answer,” Larry Jameson, solid waste board member, said. “Santek’s brought some stuff to the table that’s positive, we’ve brought some stuff the table that’s positive and we got to meet somewhere in the middle. … I think everybody on that commission is trying their best to try to do the right thing for the county.”

Jameson emphasized the proposal is still a work in progress.

Field hopes to have Dr. Bob Bachus, a representative from Geosyntec, run scenarios to validate what Santek is proposing and possibly come up with a smaller footprint than 53 acres.

“Maybe there’s some smaller footprint, some smaller number of acres that the board could live with that Santek could concur with to essentially operate the landfill,” Field said. “In my mind, I’d try to focus this thing as best we can to try to end the contract in 2034 or 2035, and I’m not — it doesn’t have to be exactly Jan. 1 or Jan. 5 in 2035, it’s just we need to have some means of trying to conclude the thing in that timeframe.”

Checks need to be made with TDEC to ensure the right kind of performance bond is in place for financial assurance, Field said. The board’s auditor will also need to OK the bonding mechanism.

Santek would be responsible for all landfill closure. As the landfill closes, the performance bond would reduce accordingly.

“It’s a big change,” Art Stewart, solid waste board member, said. “We worked for probably a year, maybe a year and a half on the one possibility of doing an annual rate adjustment kind of a model and now Santek got a little nervous about that and pitched us a good counter proposal. It’s an intriguing counter proposal.”

The most notable aspect of the proposal is a “quick thorough job of reducing risk to stakeholders,” Stewart said. The main disadvantage is worst-case scenario the landfill stays open until 2044 if daily tonnages decrease.

The proposal has the landfill operating until all airspace is used or to Dec. 31, 2044, whichever comes first.

Soil to an adjacent property to the landfill could be offered to Santek without charge or other cost or assessment, according to the proposal. Santek projects it would need 1.1 million cubic yards of soil to operate the landfill through 2032. That amounts to 34 acres, with excavation being possibly 20 feet deep. Soil use will vary year to year.

Discussion of a per-ton host fee of 5.5 percent of the tipping fees received by Santek has also been mentioned.

Board members recently discussed the possibility of extending to 2034 if a pressurized wheel washer was added to mitigate mud taken onto the roadway by trucks leaving the landfill. That still appears to be considered, which board member Tammi Bivens is pleased with.

“You’re not ever 100 percent certain something will fix the problem, but the road is definitely a problem,” Bivens said. “My hope would be that that wheel wash would fix that problem altogether. I think it’s a step in the right direction for sure.”

Bivens considered the sudden changes “shocking,” but still felt talks were headed in the right direction. Still, the decision to potentially push the contract out to 2044 gives her hesitation. She plans to speak with local residents to get their thoughts.

“Talk it over with other cities,” Bivens said. “I’d like to talk with Mr. (Tony) Aikens (Lenoir City mayor) to see how he feels about it, kind of get their feel on it a little bit with that 2044. How scary is that to everybody else? That would be my only fear, but ultimately I do think that this is a proposal that is a step in the right direction.

“I think that we are headed in the right direction, but we’re starting over new,” she added. “Once we get all that there will probably be a point in time that it’ll possibly be sent back to them with some changes.”

Stewart believes leaving the security fee at $1 could be a point of discussion.

“If we come up with a game plan and once that game plan has been established by the entire commission, then it will have to go to the stakeholders,” Jameson said. “They’ve got to buy into the same proposal.”