Now that Macon’s landfill is closing, what’s next for your trash?  

Five new covenience centers are being built for residents to deposit bulky items and recyclables

Macons+municipal+solid+waste+landfill+is+closed+to+household+garbage+and+will+only+accept+construction+and+demolition+bulky+waste+until+the+end+of+the+year.+

Liz Fabian

Macon’s municipal solid waste landfill is closed to household garbage and will only accept construction and demolition bulky waste until the end of the year.

When recent manpower shortages led to household garbage piling up at the curb, the people of Macon-Bibb County had nowhere to turn.

The unlined Walker Road landfill no longer accepts traditional trash and by the end of the year, it will be permanently closed at a cost of about $10 million in SPLOST dollars.

“We have to close the landfill and have to provide alternative places, otherwise they’re going to dump on the street,” Mayor Lester Miller told commissioners in his first month in office.

By the end of this year, Miller plans to have at least three convenience centers up and running and two more in the planning stages.

“These are not dumps,” Miller stressed. “We don’t want people to think we’re bringing in any health or safety concerns.”

For more than a decade, the county’s municipal solid waste – the regular household garbage -has been trucked to Waste Management’s landfill in Twiggs County.

As county commissioners toured Macon’s old landfill in March, one of the first things County Manager Keith Moffett pointed out was the lack of foul odors and birds circling overhead.

“That means there’s no exposed trash,” Moffett pointed out.

Not having enough dirt covering the garbage is an environmental violation and the county is striving to maintain EPD regulations.

The county hired local civil engineering firm Hofstadter and Associates to oversee the closure. They are ensuring the proper grades for the giant mound with a panoramic view stretching for miles. Their $2 million fee is being paid with 2018 SPLOST revenue.

Once it closes, the landfill will be capped with tons of dirt and seeded with grass.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller points to recycle bins at the Pea Ridge Road convenience center in Monroe County during a tour in March. (Liz Fabian)

What happens next?

Former mayor Robert Reichert planted the idea of eventually preserving the land for the public. Reichert showed commissioners a film about Freshkills, a sprawling 2,200-acre-park in Staten Island, New York, built atop tons of Big Apple garbage that piled up from 1948 until 2001. What was once the world’s largest landfill at nearly three times the size of Central Park is being developed in stages through 2036, according to its website.

Reichert had planned to close the current landfill and build a new C&D dumping ground for construction and demolition debris. His planned stalled when commissioners balked at spending up to $8.7 million for land at 4300 Mead Road.

His strategy was that it would be cheaper in the long run than trucking large items to another landfill outside the county. He also justified the steep price tag because the county was actually paying for the dirt needed to close the Walker Road landfill. The location also had already been deemed appropriate for a landfill, which would save on assessment costs and studies, the former mayor said at the time.

Reichert also was considering building a large transfer station where residents could bring those big items that eventually would be sent to another landfill. His plans got little traction on the commission.

Miller wants to get the county out of the landfill business altogether.

For dirt to cover the landfill, he worked a deal with the Georgia Department of Transportation, which had piles it needed to remove from the interstate construction projects. It was free, but the county had to haul it.

Following the landfill tour in March, commissioners rode in two vans to Monroe County to view one of their convenience centers. Without curbside service provided there by the county, local residents haul all their garbage, yard waste and other big debris items to one of 13 centers. They dump it in large rollaway bins that will be carted away.

Macon-Bibb County’s first convenience center will be built on the site of the old animal shelter on 11th Street. (Liz Fabian)

Macon-Bibb County’s convenience centers will have permanent bins that Waste Management will clear with a grapple truck using a giant grabber, Miller told commissioners during the tour.

The bins also will be lower than those in Monroe County. Moffett expects them to be about 4 feet tall.

“That way people can easily take it over,” Moffett told commissioners gathered at the entrance to Monroe’s center off Pea Ridge Road. “Grandmama can throw something over but there will be an attendant here to help.”

The site commissioners toured is about 2 acres, but Macon-Bibb plans to build on about 5 acres to allow for a landscape buffer at each site, Moffett said.

Currently, the county is entertaining proposals from companies bidding on the project.

The old animal shelter on 11th Street has been demolished and will serve as Macon-Bibb’s first location.

Bins are already on site providing extra garbage dumping options during Waste Management’s manpower shortage.

The recycle bin at the Napier Avenue fire station and five others around town will likely remain in place until the end of the year, Mayor Miller said. (Liz Fabian)

Macon-Bibb County also temporarily set up bins at six fire stations to provide places for folks to carry recyclables. Collections were put on hold to prioritize garbage pickup as the company struggled to meet its contract obligations.

Miller plans to leave those recycling bins in place during the next six months as he evaluates Waste Management’s performance. The county temporarily hired a second company this month to supplement current collections.

‘A tremendous help’

The permanent convenience centers will not take any traditional trash that is currently picked up at curbside.

“So that cuts down on the smell and just the icky-ness of having that compactor over there,” Moffett said as he gestured to Monroe County’s machine.

Looking at Monroe Commission Chairman Greg Tapley, Moffett added, “Not saying your place is icky.”

Miller mentioned Macon-Bibb will have about 18 separate bins to hold recyclables, including a “white section” for washers, dryers, refrigerators and other appliances.

Moffett noticed Monroe’s bulk waste bin loaded with furniture.

“As you see how beautiful it is to have a couch actually in the container and not on the side of  the road,” he said.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas said residents have long wanted a convenient place to dump large items they no longer want.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous help. People won’t have an excuse for taking stuff and dumping it in somebody else’s neighborhood. They’ll have a convenient place to come,” she said. “So those who still want to do that will be caught and fined and there will be convenient places all over Macon-Bibb County for people to come and get rid of things that they don’t want at their home.”

The county is currently scouting out four other locations beyond 11th Street. Those locations will be much more convenient for people than the current landfill on a long, dusty, bumpy road near swamp land along the Ocmulgee River, the mayor said.

Back in January, Miller said he planned to look first at property the county already owns for the centers.

“I promise you, we’re going to make them look good. It’s not a dump… it’s a convenience center.”

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities. Contact her at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]