The TransJordan Landfill is hidden in Salt Lake County's southwest corner, its rubbish tamped daily under swirls of dirt between the cover of nearby hills. Approaching drivers are more apt to be distracted by the copper mine, looming to the west like a giant brown canvass, than by the landfill's gully-hidden entrance to the east.
Few residents of the metro area venture this far. It is desolate and remote, a spot so undesirable South Jordan, the city in which I live, zoned the surrounding area for sexually oriented businesses - satisfying the Supreme Court's demand that it have such a zone while ensuring city residents they won't have to worry about it.But the landfill is hidden in other ways, too. Unlike the much-larger Salt Lake County Landfill, this one is run by a board of directors representing four cities - Midvale, West Jordan, Sandy and Murray. Its meetings are held in secret and seldom generate attention.
But that may be changing. The dump is full, or nearly so. As it usually does, a lack of space has led to friction, and that friction could affect a lot of people.
The landfill board and South Jordan have been slinging mud for months, and the fight just escalated from trash-talk to an in-your-face slam dump. At least that is what South Jordan is alleging. In a letter to the State Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, the city asserts the landfill is dumping trash illegally across city limits.
If so, South Jordan has a right to be upset, and the landfill's need for space is more serious and immediate than thought.
Several months ago, I outlined this brewing battle in a column that urged both sides to settle their differences before the 100,000 or so homes that contribute 250 tons daily to the landfill end up in a crisis. Instead, the rift has grown larger since then.
Two years ago the board bought 100 acres and planned for an expansion. Unlike the rest of the landfill, which is in an unincorporated area, those 100 acres were within South Jordan's city limits. City Manager Dave Millheim reasoned this way: If the dump is in the city, the city ought to have a say in how it is run.
His point is valid. At the least, the landfill ought to conform to the city's zoning requirements, and that would mean complying with certain rules and regulations, as well as agreeing on how the dump will look many years from now when it no longer is in use. Any business would have to do the same before opening.
But, for some reason, this issue has escalated from a skirmish of demands and counter-demands to a point beyond reason. At first, the city tried to annex the entire landfill, proposing that its residents get a break in garbage fees in return. For awhile, both sides were negotiating. Millheim said South Jordan was offered a partnership on the board for $1.9 million. But when the City Council agreed, the price suddenly jumped to $3 million.
Finally, the board went to court in an effort to de-annex the 100 acres it owns. A hearing is scheduled in November.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the state, Millheim said he was in a negotiating meeting April 24 when landfill officials admitted they had been dumping in the 100-acre expansion area for the past eight months. The landfill's attorney has since said he isn't sure about the dumping. In any event, he asserts, the landfill is in the process of getting all the appropriate permits and is doing nothing wrong, which is hardly comforting to an increasingly skeptical city.
The state, meanwhile, has strongly hinted it won't get involved in something it considers to be a local zoning dispute.
I have no idea where this one will end. Under the worst-case scenario, South Jordan's garbage eventually might be shut out of the dump, leading to a hefty fee increase as city residents pay to ship their trash to the county's landfill. In that case, Millheim said, the city would file a discrimination suit to require either that the city is included or that all other cities not represented on the board are excluded.
It's easy to lose sight of the main issue here, which should be to control the safety and environmental impacts of the dump. The state already is monitoring this, but South Jordan has an interest as well. That much should be obvious. The TransJordan can't expect to expand into the city and stay hidden from it.