Debris from Hurricane Sandy testing landfills
For the last seven weeks, ton after ton of waterlogged debris has been picked up from sidewalks and front lawns in towns affected by Hurricane Sandy and shipped to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority Landfill in Egg Harbor Township.
The 21-year-old facility has enough capacity to last until approximately 2026, so it isn’t in any immediate danger of filling up completely — although by taking in as much waste in one month as it would normally take in six, that lifespan was certainly shaved.
From Oct. 31, when the facility reopened two days after Sandy, to Dec. 18, the landfill took in almost 67,000 tons of waste, more than double over the same period last year.
The dumping continued this week and on a recent day, a truck backed up to the edge and opened its liftgate, dropping hundreds of pounds of wood, fabric and metal into the space below.
Gary Conover, solid waste director for the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, said the hauler is contracted to remove storm debris from just the city of Ventnor.
Much of the stock of the CVS in Ventnor Heights “was emptied all out from a tractor-trailer down here,” added solid waste manager James Coffey. “Stuff came right off the shelves and right to the landfill.”
In terms of “bulky” waste material — “The stuff coming out of houses ... furniture, cabinets, carpets, that stuff,” Coffey said — the landfill saw a nearly eight-fold increase over that same seven-week period last year, from about 2,500 tons in 2011 to more than 19,000 this year.
But that includes a relative slowdown in December, Coffey said. The year-to-year increase for bulky waste in November alone?
“One thousand percent,” he said. “Things have calmed down now, but the month of November was pretty busy. We opened up seven days a week to accept all the waste coming in. Construction debris also increased. ... People were starting to rip out sheet and wallboards, stuff like that, and those were big numbers. But household trash also picked up. It was the biggest month we ever had.”
For the Oct. 31 to Dec.18 period, the amount of construction debris increased 54 percent over last year, while household trash went up 73 percent — although Conover said that was partly due to the fact that last year haulers could still take some waste out of state. Even yard waste increased by 36 percent.
“It filled up a lot of space, but there’s plenty of room left,” Coffey said.
In northern counties, he added, “they obviously got hit a lot harder and had a lot more waste,” Coffey said. “I know some counties relaxed waste-flow regulations, just to be able to move waste out where they can handle it. We didn’t have that situation here.”
In Cape May County, John R. Baron, deputy director of the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority, said the Woodbine facility took in an additional 23,000 tons of material on top of the normal 18,000 tons it would normally handle this time of year.
The impact on space at the landfill is not a problem, however — Baron said that it means the facility might be filled to capacity two months earlier than planned, although that would not be until sometime around the year 2093.
“Obviously we’ve got an awful lot of debris coming up,” Baron said. “We’ve had a number of weekends we’ve stayed open, we were open on Veteran’s Day, and we’ve also increased the hours. ... We were open as much as we could.”
The ACUA also increased manpower during November, mostly through weekend overtime. Extra workers were needed to operate a second trash compactor working alongside a bulldozer.
“Not only do you want to get the waste in, you want to pack it to save airspace,” Coffey said of the 100,000-pound machines that slide back and forth over the waste.
“This whole area is being filled in with storm debris,” Conover said, standing at the top of the 140-foot-high manmade hill. “They’ll push the waste up, make it even, come across, come across, come across, and then come back the other way till everything is at this height.”
And then when that day comes in the 2020s, a wall will be built around the landfill and its disposal days will be over. Because of Hurricane Sandy, that day will come sooner than they imagined.
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