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September 2004

Revisions May Allow Municipal Landfills to Expand in Wisconsin

Madison, WI— Proposed rules that would allow larger municipal solid waste landfills, improve landfill design and construction standards, and allow practices intended to lead to quicker biodegradation of the waste in landfills was the topic of two public hearings in August.

The proposed revisions to the NR 500 series of the Wisconsin Administration Code are the result of an 18-month stakeholder process the Department of Natural Resources undertook to address long-standing concerns of some landfill owners, according to John Melby, policy section chief with the DNR Bureau of Waste Management.

“Some municipal landfill operators felt the existing rules unnecessarily limited the volume of landfills through overly restrictive design standards,” Melby said.

The proposed rule revisions would allow the maximum length of piping put in the bottom of landfills to collect leachate — liquids that accumulate at the bottom of landfills from waste and its breakdown and precipitation — to increase from 1,200 feet to 2,000 feet. The 1,200-foot limit was required in administrative code in 1996, Melby said, to help ensure that leachate collection piping could be readily cleaned for decades following landfill closure.

“The proposal to increase the length reflects changes in the current design and construction standards of municipal landfills and the experiences gained in the past 10 years of constructing landfills in Wisconsin,” he said.

Under this proposed revision, the maximum width of municipal landfills would increase by approximately 1,200 to 2,000 feet, about a 67 percent increase. The volume of waste that could potentially be placed in a single municipal landfill could approximately double.

However, Melby noted that any landfill expansion would be required to go through a multi-stage siting process that would include a public participation process and public hearings on the proposed expansion.

Another revision would allow the department to approve adding liquids to degrade the waste faster, thereby potentially reducing the long-term threat of landfills, Melby said. Current landfill design and operation results in landfilled waste being entombed in a dry state. The lack of moisture means that the waste remains in an undecomposed state indefinitely. Should moisture gain access to the waste at some later date, environmental harm could result from the leachate and gas generation under these conditions. This proposed rule would allow the department to approve adding liquids to degrade the waste faster thereby potentially reducing the long-term threat of landfills.

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