July 28--Every day, caravans of garbage trucks slog through mud or rumble through a haze of dust on their steep and winding climb to the top of one of the highest points in Duval County -- the mountain of trash that is Trail Ridge Landfill.
That man-made mound is getting close to reaching its limit.
In the coming year, the city needs to start building a new disposal area at the Trail Ridge Landfill, which will cost about $43 million, according to Mayor Alvin Brown's proposed 2014-15 budget.
"You reach the point where you have to pull the trigger," Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling said of enlarging the landfill.
Located south of Baldwin off U.S. 301, Trail Ridge is the single-most costly item in the $235 million list of projects that Brown wants the City Council to finance by authorizing new debt from the city's banking fund.
City Council President Clay Yarborough said upcoming budget workshops will take a hard look at the expansion. "That's not something we've received a lot of information about yet," he said. "That's a pretty heavy price tag, though."
In contrast to other projects that Brown's July 14 budget address touted as investments for a "city of opportunity," the landfill is a matter of necessity. Without expansion, Trail Ridge will run out of room for more trash as soon as 2018, said Public Works Director Jim Robinson.
The expansion would add five more years of capacity to Trail Ridge, extending it through 2023.
The city plans to start construction of the additional landfill space in early 2015 and finish that work in mid-2017. The newly built addition would only handle "soft" trash for a year to avoid sharp objects damaging the lining that contains the refuse, so the current landfill area would still take the bulk of trash collections through 2018.
City Council members have reacted skeptically to Brown's proposal to borrow for a slew of projects across the city. "That's more debt this year than the last four years combined," City Council Finance Committee Chairman Richard Clark said.
But Clark said in terms of priorities, the landfill expansion isn't optional. "It's our landfill," he said. "We've got to take our trash somewhere. If we don't do it, all you're going to do is cost everybody more money."
Councilman Stephen Joost favors the project, saying that "as crazy as it sounds, the landfill is an economic generator for the city."
Other Northeast Florida counties must ship their garbage over longer distance to landfills in Georgia. Joost said Jacksonville benefits by having a landfill with room to expand, able to handle the additional trash, such as construction debris, that is a byproduct of a growing economy.
"We can go out and pick up other business from the counties next to us," Joost said. "That can generate millions of dollars for the city of Jacksonville."
Robinson said the city will consider doing business with other counties, but the potential for gaining more money would be weighed against the cost of having to expand again sooner if Trail Ridge takes trash from outside Jacksonville.
In addition to expanding the area where trash would be dumped, the upcoming construction project also would build a drainage system that would serve future areas where the city can expand at Trail Ridge.
Even though Jacksonville has made gains in recycling, which keeps trash from ending up in the landfill, Robinson said recycling won't avert the need for enlarging Trail Ridge.
Duval County's overall recycling rate was 49 percent of disposable waste in 2013, which equaled the statewide average and was a 2-point gain from 2012, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Hillsborough County leads the pack with a 73 percent recycling rate. A big contributor to Hillsborough County's higher recycling rate is that it incinerates burnable waste at a plant that generates electricity.
Jacksonville examined various kinds of technology as an alternative to landfill expansion, but it would cost upward of $400 million for Jacksonville to build a waste-burning facility to handle its daily trash collections, Robinson said.
The city is boosting its traditional curbside recycling program. In the past two years, contractors Republic Services and Waste Pro have rolled out "single-stream" recycling services for 141,000 residences in Jacksonville.
Single-stream recycling means customers can dump all their recyclables together in the same bin and the companies will separate the materials later at their facilities.
Jacksonville plans to add that simplified recycling option to 52,000 residences in the central city area by early 2015, and the city is negotiating with Advanced Disposal Services to bring on another 70,000 residences on the Westside.
Florida law requires all counties to achieve a 75 percent recycling rate by 2020. City officials say they believe they are on track to hit that mark. But even with improved recycling rates, Trail Ridge is slated to max out by 2018. A tropical storm or hurricane would accelerate the amount of debris going into the landfill, Robinson said.
"It would be a very calculated risk to put off expansion," Robinson said. "We have to give ourselves leeway so, No. 1, we don't run out of landfill space, and No. 2, we leave that factor of safety because no one can accurately predict the future."
David Bauerlein: (904) 359-4581
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