Planning commission gives nod to 16-year landfill extension
The largest landfill in the Midwest could continue accepting trash 16 years longer than expected if the city of Shawnee allows it.
The Shawnee planning commission on Monday voted 8-3 to allow Deffenbaugh Industries, which owns and operates the Johnson County Landfill in northern Shawnee, to continue operating the site until 2043 unless it fills up sooner. The city council must approve the recommendation before it’s official.
A previous special use permit allowed the landfill to operate until 2027.
That agreement was based on the best estimates planners had available at the time, city planning director Paul Chaffee told the planning commission.
From an environmental standpoint, Deffenbaugh’s request represents good news.
Recycling has increased, the recession has diminished construction waste and compacting technology has improved enough that the landfill is filling up slower than expected. Extending its life would enable it to absorb significantly more trash without expanding the area it covers.
But some planning commissioners said extending the landfill’s life would detriment Shawnee.
In addition to emitting occasional foul odors, the longer the landfill accepts trash, the longer Shawnee must wait to develop land over and around the landfill, which can’t happen until it’s closed and capped.
Tom Beckenbaugh said waiting 16 more years to pursue mixed-use development along Interstate 435 in the area was not a good move.
“435 is a major entrance and gateway to the city of Shawnee,” he said.
Jim Schnefke agreed.
“It’s important that Shawnee look to develop more commercially,” he said.
However, for most commissioners, the question came down to this: If the landfill is capped before it’s full, elevations would not be at the right level to develop anyway, Chaffee said.
Pete Heaven, an attorney representing Deffenbaugh, said that as a practical matter, the landfill can’t be closed before it’s full.
“We couldn’t close it today,” he said. “It’s not designed to be closed yet.”
Heaven said the company would “absolutely” close the landfill if predictions are off and it fills up before 2043.
Covering more than 1,000 acres, the Johnson County Landfill at Interstate 435 and Holliday Drive is the largest in the Midwest, according to Deffenbaugh. More than 800 trucks enter and exit each day.
Betsy Betros, Director of Pollution Control for the Johnson County Environmental Department, said the Johnson County Landfill is the only one in the state with a set closure date.
From an environmental standpoint, she said, it’s best to maximize landfill space.
When the Johnson County Landfill closes, the county would have to find 500 acres for a new landfill or arrange to have trash trucked out of the area to a location farther away.
Betros said her department has been working hard to curb trash at its source. County-wide recycling ordinances are now in effect, and the county will now look to educate players in the construction industry about reducing waste.
“We want to minimize what we’re putting in a landfill,” she said. “Even though the waste goes in the landfill, it doesn’t disappear.”