After numerous complaints about foul odors and flies, a landfill that accepts sewage sludge waste from New York and New Jersey has begun unloading its train cars full of waste in Walker County, not Jefferson County, before hauling it by truck to the landfill.
The sewage sludge -- the solid material leftover from wastewater treatment plants -- is being shipped from facilities in New York and New Jersey for storage at the Big Sky Landfill in Adamsville, near the Jefferson County/Walker County line.
Several cars loaded with the containers of the sludge, also called biosolids, are currently sitting at a rail yard in the town of Parrish in Walker County awaiting transfer to the landfill.
Parrish Mayor Heather Hall confirmed the rail cars were in Parrish, but called the situation "very temporary," and the result of logistical issues.
"It's just a very temporary situation, until they can get these cars moving again," Hall said. "Hopefully within the next day or two they'll start shipping these cars out so they're not going to be stockpiled and be sitting here in Parrish."
Personnel at Big Sky did not immediately return calls requesting comment, but Hall said she spoke with the landfill and believed the operations there will not be an issue. "They will be doing the unloading of the [train] cars to put on the trucks, but they're not dumping it here," Hall said. "Once they get this set of rail cars that are in here now, we're not really even going to have an issue anymore.
"They said once they get these cars moved out, there'll only be maybe six cars to 12 cars here at any one time, which unbeknownst to me, those cars have been there for the last year, year and a half already, and they haven't really caused an issue before."
Big Sky had been using a small rail spur in unincorporated Jefferson County to transfer the containers of sludge from the train cars to trucks and drive them to the landfill. However, after numerous complaints from nearby residents, Jefferson County determined the operation violated the county's zoning laws.
Once that ruling came down, the landfill began transitioning to the new facility.
Charles Nix -- mayor of the town of West Jefferson, near the location of the old rail spur -- said he saw landfill personnel loading equipment onto trucks Friday at the old rail yard and followed them as they moved the equipment to Parrish. "We kinda kept an eye on them," Nix said. "We followed them up I-22 to the Cordova/Parrish exit and they ended up in Parrish, right across from the old high school.
"They've probably got several hundred containers on the site now. As soon as they get their lift reassembled, they'll probably start hauling containers back to the landfill in the morning."
Nix and other residents of West Jefferson have been very critical of the sludge operation. The town has sued the landfill attempting to block the transport of sewage through town. Residents have complained of an increase in smells and flies since the operation started early last year, and times when wet sludge material sloshed out of trucks and onto county roads.
Landfill personnel have admitted to two instances in which the sludge material spilled from trucks onto roads. Residents claim there have been others as well.
Nix said changing the rail yard would not solve his town's problems with the sludge operation, as the trucks would still likely pass through West Jefferson as they got off of Interstate 22 to get to the landfill. He also believes his town is experiencing increased odors and flies from the landfill itself, not just the rail yard and the trucks.
"They have some other options, but that's the shortest route is I-22," Nix said. "The big issue now is once it gets to the landfill, we get the odor and flies from the landfill itself, so it's not gonna help. It looks like they might be able to increase the amount they're bringing in with this size rail yard."
Big Sky has approval from ADEM to use the sludge as alternative cover for the landfill cells to encourage plant growth. According to ADEM documents, Big Sky deposits the material from the shipping containers into a composting pile where it is mixed with dirt before being spread on top of the cells.
Other opposition to the landfill's sludge operation remains as well. The landfill's general operating permit with ADEM is up for renewal, and dozens of local residents turned out for a public hearing on the permit renewal. Most asked ADEM to deny renewal of the permit, or include provisions to block the import of sewage sludge.
The public comment period on the permit renewal ended Feb. 1. ADEM has not yet announced a decision on whether it will renew the permit.