More than 120 people filled the SkyRider Café at Marana Regional Airport last Tuesday, largely expressing their opposition to a proposed, privately operated landfill off Avra Valley, Silverbell and Trico roads.
A decline in property values, the possibility of water contamination, noise, dust, blowing trash and increased traffic were common, repeated themes.
Michael Racy, representing developer DKL Holdings Inc., responded to each question and comment. Early on, speakers identified themselves and asked questions; later, people spoke over one another, sometimes in loud voices. Neighbors are upset, and they plan to contest the proposal, which goes to the Marana Planning Commission for a public hearing on rezoning next Wednesday, March 24.
"This is only about 1 percent of the people that live out here, and it's not over," one man told Racy. "There's enough of us who are going to fight you to the end."
"This is not a done deal," said one woman. "We can make this stop."
"Tell us what we need to do, all of us, to stop this," said one. "That's all we want. We don't want a dump."
Annexation is in the domain of Marana, not Pima County, Racy clarified for the audience. "Annexation is the choice of the property owner, not Pima County," he said. "The annexation never goes to Pima County." Herb Kai, who is also the vice mayor of Marana and owns the property, has signed an annexation petition, and it goes through the town's annexation process.
Last week's meeting took place in part because Marana requires "neighborhood involvement" ahead of zoning changes. State law requires notification for everyone within 300 feet of a project. "If we had gone 300, we would not have noticed anybody," Racy said. Invitations were extended beyond the 300-foot area to approximately 200 residences.
Transportation effects from a landfill have been studied, Racy told the group. Avra Valley Road has traffic about one-third of its rated capacity, just under 5,000 trips a day. The landfill would add 1,200 uses from cars and trucks.
"Avra Valley Road cannot support 1,200 trips a day," said resident Annie Shellberg. "You said the traffic impact was going to be minimal. Twelve hundred trips is not minimal."
The road has "a rated capacity of 14,000 trips," Racy said.
The landfill would not have impacts on Marana Regional Airport, he said.
"The Tangerine Landfill, which isn't managed very well, is right there," 7,000 feet away from the airport, Racy said. "We're 14,000 feet away.
"The idea this is a hazard is a red herring put out there by a competing landfill operator," Racy said.
Ron Asta, who helped developers of a proposed landfill in southern Pinal County, said Marana wrote a letter supporting the Pinal proposal two years ago.
"To say you're going to put a 270-foot mountain, 2.3 miles from this airport, and it has no impact? I don't believe it."
"I suggest Mr. Asta stick to land use planning, and not aviation planning," said Racy, who is a pilot.
Later in last week's meeting, Asta said he was representing "John Kai, who owns the property adjacent to his brother's site, and is absolutely opposed to this project."
Racy said the landfill project grew from the county's discussions of closing the Tangerine Landfill. "I don't know when that's going to happen," Racy said. "It's very near capacity."
As Tangerine closes, the new landfill would "fill a very significant need for this entire region of the county." The parcel is "well-suited," and there are "significant industrial uses nearby."
Racy was asked how the landfill would "earn a profit, much less pay the taxes."
He said developer Larry Henk and others in the project have long history with landfill operation. "They are confident of the economic viability of the project," Racy said. "If they fail, it's their failure, and there's nothing there."
"And we pay the price," said a resident.
There is clear distrust of the Town of Marana among residents.
"Marana is very good about telling you stories about how things are going to work, and they don't," one speaker said. "The only thing they've done for me in the past 15 years is fill potholes."
"Marana, they line their pockets with the money at the expense of our neighborhood," said one man.
"All we are is a place to dump on, and that is what we've become," said one resident.
"We don't need a dump out here, pretty much," said one man.
Basics of the proposal
DKL Holdings proposes to build a "state of the art, fully double-lined" landfill on 590 acres of land 1.5 miles north of Avra Valley Road, a mile east of Trico Road and 3,000 feet south of Silverbell Road in what is currently unincorporated Pima County.
The parcel, now owned by Herb Kai, Marana's vice mayor, is proposed for annexation into Marana concurrently with a zoning change to allow industrial use on agricultural land currently zoned for residential uses.
The landfill would occupy 430 acres inside that 590-acre parcel, with a minimum 200-foot buffer on the perimeter, up to 800 feet on the northeast corner. About 20 acres would be used for administrative buildings, scales, recycling and re-use facilities.
All access would occur off a private paved road to be built off Avra Valley Road. There would be no access from Silverbell. Turning lanes would be constructed. Other road improvements would be analyzed.
Permitting for a landfill is expected to take a year, involving the town, the county, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and various federal agencies. Hydrology has been analyzed; some sheet flooding on the parcel "will be managed," according to Michael Racy, representing DKL Holdings. Additional groundwater studies are expected.
Permitting would cost between $1 million and $2 million, Racy said. Construction would cost between $8 million and $10 million. Private capital would be used.
Compacted trash would be placed in various cells within the landfill. Estimated life of the facility "depends on the amount of waste" delivered, Racy said, but it's "probably in the 50-70-year range.
The landfill would reach 40 feet below the current grade. Near its completion, the landfill could be several hundred feet tall, covered with soil in varying elevations so as not to resemble a mine tailings pile.
"It's much smaller" than a tailings pile, Racy said, "but it's still substantial."
"Ten years after operations start, nothing is visible," Racy said.
Developer says evidence does not show values harm
Residents west of Marana are fearful a proposed landfill would reduce their property values.
"How can you possibly guarantee my home will not lose any value?" one man asked at the SkyRider Café.
Michael Racy, representing developer DKL Holdings, said "we can't find, simply by proximity to a landfill, that it's had an adverse impact on property values."
"A house next to the dump will never sell," one man said.
"That's incorrect," Racy replied.
In a later interview, Racy said inquiries have revealed "evidence that supports that proximity to landfills does not have an adverse impact on values."
An investigation into "values of new subdivisions that recently went in around the Los Reales landfill" in south Tucson has been conducted. "Lot premiums have been paid on lots immediately abutting the open space landfill areas, and in our look, we didn't find as we went further away, and to other comparable properties, any attributable difference because of the landfill."
A more detailed valuation analysis is being prepared, he said.
Public hearing on rezone for landfill set on Feb. 24
A public hearing on rezoning of acreage for a landfill on land currently west of Marana has been scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 24.
At 6:30 p.m. that Wednesday, the Marana Planning Commission considers a request by The Planning Center, representing DKL Holdings, Inc., to amend the specific plan and rezone approximately 590 acres of land from "rural development" to an industrial use, according to a public notice published Feb. 9.
The parcel is .9 of 1 mile north of Avra Valley Road, one mile east of Trico Road, and ½-mile south of Silverbell Road. It is currently outside the town limits. The parcel, owned by Herb Kai and in escrow with DKL, is proposed for concurrent annexation with the rezoning into Marana's limits.
DKL is asking Marana to establish the Marana Regional Landfill Specific Plan, an industrial master-planned area that would allow for "a regional landfill and material recovery operations as well as other industrial uses," according to the published notice.
The public may comment on the rezoning application at the hearing. Brian Varney is identified as the town of Marana planning department contact. He may be reached at 382-2600.
Written and verbal comments are accepted. Written comments may be sent in care of Brian Varney, Building A2, 11555 W. Civic Center Drive, Marana, 85653. There is also a link for comments on the town's Web site, www.marana.com. People may click on the Planning Department link, then go to "general planning inquiries, planning commission and board of adjustment e-mails."
"That link will enable them to send e-mail correspondence directly to the planning department," which then forwards comments to the planning commission, Varney said.
Notice of the re-zoning hearing has been published in The Territorial, and posted at the Heritage Highlands Clubhouse, with the Continental Ranch Homeowners Association, at the town's Municipal Operations Center and at the Marana Municipal Complex.
'No effects' on health, less dust than ag, skeptics told
"State of the art" landfills do not affect people's health, nor do they create odors, a representative of a developer told skeptical Marana area residents last week.
Michael Racy, speaking on behalf of DKL Holdings, further said dust from a landfill would be less than that generated by current agricultural activities.
Few believed him at last week's meeting at the SkyRider Café.
"What kind of health risks are we looking at?" asked one resident. "We have children."
"There are not health risks associated with this kind of a facility," Racy responded, to yells from the audience.
"Are you going to pay our medical bills?" asked one woman.
"There are simply not health-related issues associated with modern landfill operation," Racy said in a later interview. "The health-related concerns that have happened in various parts of the country have generally been associated with facilities that have taken hazardous waste, liquid waste, were not properly regulated and not property controlled."
If it is built, the DKL landfill would not accept hazardous nor liquid wastes, he said.
"What are you going to do about smelling it in our neighborhood less than a mile away?"
"You cannot smell it, off the landfill site," Racy said. With daily cover requirements, "there is no off-site smell generated with modern landfills."
The landfill would have "active dust management," with compaction, application of water "and other dust palliatives," Racy said. "We're in the Desert Southwest, there is dust, there always will be dust.
"People out there are living in an industrial agriculture area," Racy said. A landfill would generate "less dust than the agricultural land it will be replacing, significantly less dust."
"The dust, the chemicals created by agricultural activities in this area drastically exceed what won't come off this site," he told a resident. "This will not influence your breathing problems."
— Dave Perry
Water, big concern, not affected, rep says
A landfill proposed for land now west of Marana would not contaminate drinking water, a representative of the developer told a crowd last week.
Water quality is "the best concern with respect to something like this," Michael Racy told more than 100 people assembled at the SkyRider Café. "There are zero instances of water contamination in a double-lined facility of this design."
"No liner is going to be 100 percent non-leaking," a speaker said.
Monitor wells on the site are regularly tested for any indication of leakage, Racy responded.
"That's the largest aquifer in Tucson," said a speaker. "My kids will be drinking that water, so is all of Tucson."
"You are, and you should be concerned about it," Racy said. But there is "zero history of modern lined facilities" with monitor wells allowing leakage into potable aquifers, he repeated. "We're not ready to gamble with whatever water is left," said one.
"All landfills will inevitably leak," a speaker said.
"Anything manmade will fail, and once you get into the aquifer, it's done," said another.
Federal regulations require at least 10 feet of material between a lined landfill and in aquifer. In Avra Valley, that distance is 200 feet, Racy said.
"Here, it's really tough for something to migrate 10 feet," Racy said in a subsequent interview. "The ground is not very permeable. We've got impermeable ground and hundreds of feet."
The landfill would be built with "a state of the art double-liner system with clay substrates, an active leachate collection system, and monitoring wells around the property," Racy said. DKL has agreed, "if the neighbors would like," to test their wells on an annual basis. "We could establish a baseline for them, and monitor them over time."
"We're confident there are no challenges and constraints with that," he said. "That's where a lot of the cost and time are involved with the permitting process."
And the developer is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explore creation of burrowing owl habitat within the property, as well as environmental restoration for a portion of the Brawley Wash.
"Why should I believe one word?" said one man.
All reports are and will be a public record, available for scrutiny, Racy said. "If you say you don't trust or believe any of them, there's nothing I can say that will convince you."