The Metropolitan King County Council voted to expand the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill on Wednesday, extending the trash-dumping life of the county’s only landfill to 2040 and forestalling the eventual decision on what to do with the region’s garbage once the site finally fills up.
The county council approved, by a 5-2 vote, a new Comprehensive Waste Management Plan, the first in nearly two decades, that calls for up to $270 million in modifications to the landfill, including building a new and final ninth dumping ground at the site to extend the landfill’s life for a dozen years.
Administrative trailers and maintenance buildings at the landfill would be moved to maximize every corner of the site available for trash.
The plan, proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine, punts on what to do after the landfill does fill up.
“To account for technological advances, this plan does not specify the next disposal method after ultimate closure of Cedar Hills,” it says.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who represents the district containing the landfill, and Councilmember Kathy Lambert, a longtime advocate for building a waste-to-energy plant, both voted no. Councilmembers Larry Gossett and Pete von Reichbauer were absent.
“I want to protest the continued expansion of this monolithic pile of garbage that is right in the middle of our community,” Dunn said. “It is a geologic feature, it is its own mountain.”
The landfill’s expected closing date has repeatedly been pushed back by decades, over the years, much to the outrage of its neighbors in southern King County, between Renton and Maple Valley, who have legions of complaints about odor, truck traffic and the environmental impacts of the landfill.
“The critical impacts of this comprehensive plan are not right and shouldn’t be based on what is cheapest,” said Kim Brighton, who lives near the landfill in Renton. “Thirty-plus years you’ve said the landfill will close.”
Dozens of Renton and Maple Valley residents spoke against the landfill last month at a special County Council meeting, held at a church just a couple miles from the site.
Councilmember Claudia Balducci noted that the plan has been years in the making and supported the plan, while recognizing the concerns of the landfill’s neighbors.
“We hear you, we believe you, nobody thinks you’re not experiencing these things,” Balducci said. “We have to balance regional waste disposal with the impacts on the local community.”
The plan requires a study within two years on the next long-term garbage disposal method, following Cedar Hills’ closure — likely either shipping garbage elsewhere, by train, or building a waste-to-energy plant, which incinerates trash and uses the heat to make electricity.
The county estimates the cost of a waste-to-energy facility at $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion.
Cedar Hills, a 1.4-square-mile hulking mound of garbage, covered by soil and patchy brown grass, takes the garbage of everybody in King County, with the small exception of Milton, which sends its trash to Pierce County, and the large exception of Seattle, which ships its trash to Oregon.
About 2,500 tons of garbage are added to the pile each weekday, shoved and compressed into place by a fleet of bulldozers.
The new plan also requests a study to try to address the hundreds of bald eagles what frequent the landfill, feasting on garbage and scattering it, like delinquent litterbugs, on neighbors’ property.
Pipes sticking out of the hill collect the methane that decomposing garbage emits. It’s piped to an on-site bioenergy plant, which converts the gas into usable natural gas that’s pumped into Puget Sound Energy’s grid — enough to power about 19,000 homes a year.