Deffenbaugh Industries got a one-year extension on its permit to operate the Johnson County Landfill in Shawnee, even as city officials continue to look for the reason for intermittently strong odors that have caused a spike in complaints this year.
The Shawnee City Council on Monday unanimously agreed to extend Deffenbaugh’s special use permit with some modifications about how yard waste is treated. Council members also approved the continuation of a study by Blackstone Environmental of Overland Park to pinpoint the specific cause of the stench.
A Blackstone official reviewed its findings so far, which analyzed the relationship between weather patterns and complaints, among other things.
City Manager Carol Gonzales said the vote doesn’t rule out the possibility of action before the year is over. “Throughout the next year, I don’t want anyone to think we aren’t going to do anything more for a whole year but study it,” she said. “I have no doubt that if we all of a sudden find the cause, I know they will act sooner than a year from now.”
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The 170-page odor study noted that some other facilities might be to blame for some of the complaints. Johnson County and Wyandotte County water treatment plants are nearby, and based on wind direction and other factors, they may have been the cause of some of the smells, said Lindsay James, project manager and licensed professional geologist for Blackstone.
However the study, though preliminary, also noted some reasons that had been given previously for the increased odor, including unusually high rainfall and the treatment of yard waste compost.
Odors at the landfill have been an ongoing concern for most of this year. The Shawnee Planning Commission discussed the high volume of complaints in February and was told unusually wet weather was causing the trash to break down faster, causing the release of more smelly gas than the landfill operators could handle at the time.
Deffenbaugh officials promised that new gas collection wells and flares would shortly be put in place to take care of the smell. For a while, that appeared to work. But then in June complaints went up again. Lake Quivira residents also signed a petition asking Shawnee to look into the problem as the company’s permit was due to come up for renewal soon.
There also has been a spike in complaints the past week, officials said.
The county’s policy requiring yard waste to be composted was also blamed, although county officials said it was because Deffenbaugh was mishandling the waste, allowing it to accumulate in bigger piles for a longer time than it should have been.
James noted heavy rainfall and delayed collections during that time also likely played a role, as wet grass clipping sat for longer and began to decay in bags even before they made it to the landfill.
The council approved some new conditions on Deffenbaugh’s special use permit to address that. For example, the landfill — now owned by Waste Management — must maintain proper equipment to treat the waste when it comes in and must deal with the yard waste immediately by putting it in smaller windrows.
Some council members also discussed other ideas they said should be explored. Council member Eric Jenkins said the city should talk to the county about getting a release from the composting requirement during rainy weather. “Guess what, Johnson County? We live here. How about you guys getting on board with us? We’re one of your larger communities,” he said.