Loudon County Solid Waste Commission has accused Matlock Bend Landfill operator Santek Waste Services of breach of contract after learning dormant landfill cells are not being closed.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is requiring all operators in the state, including Santek, submit a phased closure plan by June 30. Solid waste board members in January passed a motion authorizing board attorney Kevin Stevens to write a letter to Santek demanding specific actions be taken during the process.

Demands included the board’s written approval of the plan within 90 days of submission to TDEC, a phased closure plan with definitive deadlines for closure of specific cells and a deadline for closure of dormant cells, Stevens said.

Santek has been accused of not filling cells to completion to avoid closure costs. There are currently 13 cells open in the landfill. Many of the cells have been dormant for years.

Stevens received a response from Santek’s lawyer.

“Frankly, it says very little and doesn’t respond to what we had asked specifically,” Stevens said. “… The long and short of it is they did say they would submit a closure plan, and they did say that they will provide it to us for review and comment in advance of approval. It didn’t state that we would approve it in writing, and it didn’t state when they would provide it to us for review and comment.

“In the second to last paragraph, they deny that they are in violation of any solid waste laws or TDEC regulations or that they have failed to comply with their requirements under our contract,” he added. “… The letter really doesn’t address our specific concerns other than tell us they’ll keep us in the loop with regard to their submissions to TDEC, but it doesn’t outline exactly what they’re going to do relative to the plan or our written approval of the plan or specifically what they’re going to include in the plan relative to requiring phased closure with a definitive timeline.”

Stevens said he was “underwhelmed” with the response.

TDEC has started to tighten landfill regulations, which have historically been lax compared to neighboring states.

The current contract requires Santek to close cells as they reach final elevation.

“The wiggle room that Santek has realized is that it will fill the landfill 2 or 3 feet below final elevation,” Steve Field, board chairman, said.

Ben Johnston, Santek representative, said Field was incorrect. The current height of the landfill is 1,070 feet, but the permit allows 1,108 feet.

“That’s the highest point,” Field said. “The point is there are some areas of the landfill that don’t go to that full elevation that are near final grade that had been at or near final grade for years, and you folks purposely don’t build it to final grade because if it hit final grade you’d have to close it.”

Stevens said the board was previously in negotiations with Santek about a contract amendment with language regarding phased closure and the concept of closing one cell before opening a new one. Those discussions halted when the board in November voted to pause contract negotiations until further notice.

Johnston said the board can expect a plan in six to eight weeks.

“I am saddened by the tone of this letter,” Larry Jameson, solid waste board member, said. “I would have thought the relationship with Santek and this commission warranted a better response.”