Despite years of discussion and litigation, no one is picking up the bill to monitor the Mount Solo landfill, and county officials say it would take an expensive round of testing to find out if the landfill is stable enough to end upkeep and monitoring 26 years after it closed.
So for now, the Cowlitz County commissioners have decided to let it stay as is, even though that means no one knows for sure whether it is posing any health hazards.
“We’ve come to this place of no one is willing to step up and pay additional funds,” said Season Long, Cowlitz County environmental health manager.
The 70-acre private landfill west of Longview near the Columbia River opened in the 1960s and closed in 1993.
For 20 years after closure, the state requires regular testing to track whether waste is contaminating nearby surface and groundwater and to determine when the landfill is stable enough to warrant an end to monitoring. Gas releases from decaying waste also must be checked.
However, the landfill hasn’t been monitored since 2009. Landfill owner Robert Radakovich Sr., who died in 2017, told the county in 2010 he was broke and couldn’t afford to satisfy the state’s post-closure requirements.
Weyerhaeuser Co.’s pulp mill was by far the landfill’s biggest customer. Millions of tons of pulp mill waste were disposed of there. The company paid about $9 million for a trust fund to cover post-closure costs in the 1990s. But it has declined to pay more, saying it satisfied its financial obligation for post-closure costs.
Although it never owned the landfill, the county is involved because it is responsible for making sure the owners follow state landfill closure requirements.
In 2011, the county sued Radakovich and won a court order to force him to maintain and monitor the landfill, which is located south of Mount Solo Road west of the old Reynolds Metals Co. site. However, Radakovich declared bankruptcy, and county officials couldn’t find any assets to seize.
The county also hired a lawyer to find former landfill customers to pay for the maintenance and testing. The lawsuit ended up including Radakovich his companies, the City of Longview, Weyerhaeuser, Scott and Janel Schill, Keystone Contracting and its president John Van Vessem.
Both Keystone Contracting and the Schills purchased part of the landfill property from Radakovich. The City of Longview disposed some waste at the site during 1989.
Long said the county’s private lawyer withdrew from the suit in September 2017 because it was too expensive and failed to get any other companies or people to pick up landfill costs. The case is still unresolved but inactive.
In August 2014, county commissioners started looking into digging up the landfill and converting the site into industrial land. The county and Port of Longview got a $37,500-grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board to study the feasibility of the plan. The county contributed $3,000 and the port kicked in $9,500 for the total $50,000-report.
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Long said a 2015 draft of the study explored a variety of options, including removing all the waste and transporting it to other landfills, removing only some of the waste, creating a new area on-site that better met state standards, as well as other options.Removing 18 inches of topsoil and all the waste from the landfill, transporting 60 percent of it to Headquarters Landfill and barging the 40 percent up the Columbia River to the Finley Butte Landfill near Boardman, Ore., would have cost about $352 million, Long said.
Other plans to remove just some of the waste were cheaper, ranging from $10 to $39 million, she said.
Long said at the time there were Ecology funds that could have helped with the project but the money is no longer available. Without that funding she said moving the waste is too costly.
Along with annually inspecting the landfill and reporting to the state Department of Ecology, the county also investigates complaints about the landfill. However, Long said there haven’t been any in the last couple years.
The health department charges facilities for its inspections but has not been able to collect any fees from the Mount Solo property owner, she said. Because complaints have been minimal, doing the inspections without the fee hasn’t affected the budget very much, Long said.
“The time consuming part is reviewing the monitoring data and we don’t have that being presented to us,” she said.
The state requires monitoring until the landfill reaches “functional stability” and doesn’t present a threat to human health or the environment. To find out if the Mount Solo landfill is stable, Long said a consultant would have to test it, but that’s not happening unless someone pays for it.
Although she doesn’t know the exact cost of all the required testing, Long said it could cost $1 million or more.
Long said the state is aware of the county’s efforts and hasn’t pushed to finish the testing.
It is up to the county commissioners to give the health department direction on how to move forward, Long said.
Commissioner Dennis Weber said the board hasn’t talked about the landfill since ending legal action in 2017. Since the landfill doesn’t seem to pose a health or safety concern, the commissioners decided to let it stay as is for now.
“The legal costs of fighting it were outweighing the threat,” Weber said.