Middle Point Landfill seeks expansion on county property: 'Our job is never done'

Murfreesboro lawsuit against landfill set for jury trial in 2024

Scott Broden
Murfreesboro Daily News Journal
  • Classen: City sewer pump station causes stench at Oakland HS
  • Middle Point official touts investments to reduce odor
  • Mayors of Murfreesboro and Rutherford oppose landfill expansion
  • Mayor Carr opposes landfill expanding on county's adjacent property

Middle Point Landfill representatives want to expand on adjacent Rutherford County government property rather than toward East Jefferson Pike.

The existing 207-acre landfill opened in 1989. Middle Point has served the fast-growing Middle Tennessee region with a landfill that’s now 234 feet tall. The landfill is permitted to add another 80 feet up and be full by July 2027 based on current operations, Middle Point General Manager Mike Classen said.

Middle Point Landfill General Manager Mike Classen, talks about the landfill on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the site.

A licensed environmental engineer with 14 years of experience as a solid waste professional, Classen is in his second year of overseeing the landfill as an employee for the owner, Republic Services, a publicly traded solid waste corporation based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Middle Point buried about 1.1 million tons of trash in 2021 in the Walter Hill community on the north side of Rutherford County.

Republic’s previous proposal for possible expansion on the county’s adjacent 288 acres that include two closed public landfills faced rejection in 2018 from a unanimous 21-0 vote by the Rutherford County Commission. Commissioners mentioned concerns then about the landfill odor issues getting worse.

By spring 2021, Middle Point pursued a yet-approved expansion plan application with the state that would add 99 acres toward East Jefferson Pike, which is part of state Route 266 and near U.S. Highway 231.

The landfill expansion plans, however, face opposition from Rutherford County Mayor Joe Carr and Murfreesboro officials upset by the odor near the city’s northern boundary.

Mayor Carr said he's concerned about the state reporting Middle Point Landfill accepting 4,500 tons of of trash per day with 70% coming from outside Rutherford County.

“That is the core issue," Carr said.

"The question is how long will Rutherford County have to suffer under the burden of a horrible contract that makes Rutherford County the trash can for Middle Tennessee,” added Carr, who won his mayor seat as the Republican Party nominee in Aug. 4 election. “I promised I would fix this problem, and I will.”

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The Murfreesboro City Council also filed a lawsuit in August accusing Middle Point of causing odor issues and failing to contain leachate (liquid from landfills) from contaminating the Stones River, the source of the city’s drinking water.

Republic Services responded to the case in October by asking the federal court in Nashville to dismiss the city’s lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Eli J. Richardson, however, scheduled a jury trial to start by Nov. 5, 2024.

Timeline:A look at Rutherford County's 35-year history with landfill operations

Middle Point official touts investments to reduce odor

Classen touts Middle Point’s $7.5 million investment the past couple of years to reduce odor.

This includes 84 new gas wells and nearly 4,000 linear feet of horizontal collectors with five new extraction points. Classen said he’s tracked data and odor complaints on the Middle Point Landfill website since early 2021.

“Our collected gas flow is up 52%, and odor complaints are down 90%,” Classen said. “We have worked hard to limit our off-site odor. We have been successful.”

Middle Point Landfill General Manager Mike Classen, talks about the landfill on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the site.

Middle Point Landfill also monitors odors to ensure the efforts are effective in reducing the stench, Classen said.

“Our job is never done,” said Classen, adding that operations to keep Middle Point safe must, by legal requirements, continue for 50 years past closure.

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Mayors of Murfreesboro and Rutherford oppose landfill expansion

The mayor's of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County want Middle Point Landfill to close rather than expand. They’re each pursuing plans to build solid waste transfer stations where local garbage trucks can dump trash with part of the waste being loaded onto large trucks to be shipped to an out-of-county landfill. Other plans would convert waste to energy and separate recycled materials for buyers of these products.

Murfreesboro officials seek to build a transfer station on the city’s south side in an industrial area on Butler Drive while the county plans to build one on the north side on part of the 288 acres adjacent to Middle Point Landfill.

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Classen said the shipping costs would be high to haul trash about an hour’s drive to the nearest landfill in Lewisburg. The hour-long drive each way will mean higher trash fees and property taxes for Rutherford County and its cities.

“When it comes to low-cost disposal and affordability we offer citizens, businesses and industry, you can’t beat what we offer here at Middle Point,” Classen said.

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Murfreesboro, Middle Point Landfill each plan waste-to-energy projects

Middle Point Landfill General Manager Mike Classen, talks about the landfill on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the site.

Murfreesboro officials contend they can keep shipping costs down through a plan to work with WastAway, a Warren County based company that converts waste to a fuel source for industry. The process would include dumping trash into a future warehouse built by the planned transfer station, and using conveyor belts and magnets to sort out metal and other recycling materials. The city and WastAway report the operation would divert 90% of the waste from being shipped to a landfill.

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Middle Point officials also tout pursuing their own plans to convert solid waste to renewable natural gas through an agreement with Archaea Energy. The project will convert landfill gas that naturally occurs as waste decomposes into pipeline-quality gas that can be used as a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Republic Services press release.

The renewable natural gas project will break ground in early 2023, according to the press release.

“This community values sustainability, and we are committed to a long-term and environmentally responsible operation that continues to benefit neighbors and all Rutherford County residents,” Classen said in the press release.

Middle Point Landfill General Manager Mike Classen, talks about the landfill on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the site.

The waste-to-energy initiative by Middle Point Landfill officials impresses Rutherford County Commission member Craig Harris, according to the press release. He won a seat in August 2018 after commissioners had voted 21-0 against any proposals for Middle Point expansion on the county’s adjacent property.

“Middle Point has been before the county’s public works committee several times since 2018,” Harris said in the press release. “We told them we wanted renewable energy, and they have delivered. We are pleased they are investing in new technology at Middle Point Landfill as a sustainable solution for landfill gas. It shows Middle Point is making great strides to have a better relationship with the county moving forward.”

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Harris said recently that commissioners also challenged Middle Point officials about the odor issues from the landfill gas.

“I feel like they are trying to alleviate the problem with this venture,” Harris said.

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Mayor Carr opposes landfill expanding on county's adjacent property

Republic Services officials such as Classen hope Middle Point will continue to provide services beyond when the existing landfill is full.

Middle Point’s current expansion plans toward East Jefferson Pike also would mean using land the company owns and offers as recreational uses through leases with youth football and softball leagues. The company would rather expand on the county’s 288 acres with what Classen calls a “modern containment facility” that is superior to the two outdated public landfills that are closed.

The county landfill property has faced state fines for leachate leaks.

An expanded Middle Point on the adjacent county property could help solve issues at the closed landfills by reclaiming the land by moving buried trash to a modern landfill, Classen said.

The impermeable lined Middle Point Landfill includes a geologic buffer, compacted clay, geosynthetic (type of plastic) membrane, drainage layers and a leachate collection system that treats the liquid on site before being moved through pipes to Murfreesboro’s waste water treatment plant, Classen said.

Although Middle Point officials want expansion on the adjacent county property, Mayor Carr has concerns about the volume of trash hauled in to dump at the private landfill.

“While I am grateful for the investment that Republic Services is proposing at Middle Point Landfill regarding sustainability, these efforts do nothing toward remediating or lessoning the burden of Rutherford County being the destination point for 4,500 tons of trash a day, of which 70% comes from outside the county,” Carr said.

Bishop Wagener, left, Rutherford County Solid Waste Director looks on as Joe Carr, right, Rutherford County Mayor speaks about the Middle Point Landfill with a view the landfill behind them, on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

Landfill public hearing:Rutherford residents cite health, environment as reasons not to expand Middle Point Landfill

A truck drives down the road out of Middle Point Landfill on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the site.

Reach reporter Scott Broden with news tips or questions by emailing him at sbroden@dnj.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden. To support his work with The Daily News Journal, sign up for a digital subscription for all dnj.com stories.

By the numbers: Middle Point Landfill

  • Size of existing landfill: 207.3 acres
  • Height of landfill: 234 feet
  • Additional height allowed by state permit: 80 feet
  • State-permitted cubic yards of waste allowed: Nearly 38.8 million
  • Proposed expansion: 99.45 acres
  • Proposed additional cubic yards of waste under expansion: 32 million
  • Percentage increase in cubic yards of waste if allowed: 82.5
  • Estimated trash hauled by Rutherford County government in 2021: 49,000 tons
  • Estimated trash hauled by Murfreesboro government in 2021: 51,000 tons
  • Estimated trash hauled by private commercial haulers in county in 2021: 270,000 tons
  • Estimated trash hauled to landfill from Rutherford County in 2021: 370,000 tons
  • Estimated trash dumped at landfill from other counties in 2021: 750,000 tons
  • Estimated total tons in 2021 dumped at landfill: 1.1 million

Source: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and Bishop Wagener, Rutherford County solid waste director