Lena Road Landfill may reach capacity in 20 years. Replacing it could take just as long

Time is running out for Manatee County officials to find a site for a new landfill, and it won’t be an easy endeavor.

County staff estimate that the Lena Road Landfill, which first opened in the 1970s at 3333 Lena Road in Bradenton, will meet capacity and be forced to close in less than 25 years. In the meantime, finding, permitting and building out a new landfill could take around 19 years.

In a presentation to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, Utilities Director Mike Gore briefed officials on the urgency of the matter.

There are three different estimates on how many years the landfill has left. They range from 20 to 25 years, according to a report from staff. However, Gore noted that the 20-year estimate appears to be the most accurate.

“The sooner we get started, the better off we are,” said Commissioner Stephen Jonsson. “Twenty years isn’t that long, and if we’re not ready to go, it’s going to create a real nightmare.”

“A sense of urgency is really there,” Commissioner Betsy Benac added.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the landfill. On Wednesday afternoon, a steady stream of garbage and dump trucks dropped off a continuous stream of trash, while compactors and bulldozers squashed garbage to make room for the next delivery.

Lena Road has about 11.2 million cubic yards of volume left. In 2018 alone, the landfill added about 490,000 cubic yards of waste. Before he retired earlier this year, former County Administrator Ed Hunzeker forewarned of the difficulty the board would encounter in replacing the Lena Road Landfill.

“Identifying space beginning to plan for a new landfill is not an easy process,” Hunzeker said in his final annual report. “It will require special permitting and space for buffering and landscaping around the property.”

Gore walked officials through a number of those hurdles. First comes the difficulty of finding a massive piece of land. Gore is recommending the county purchase a 1,000- to 3,000-acre parcel for its new landfill, but there are several factors to take into account.

It was a busy day, as usual, at the Lena Road landfill; time is running out for Manatee County officials to find a site for a much-needed new landfill. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The current landfill sits on about 1,300 acres and has the benefits of a central location in the county and proximity to Interstate 75. A new landfill would ideally meet those criteria, while also being situated away from wetlands or flood zones.

Cost will be another issue for the county, Gore pointed out. A Solid Waste Master Plan put together by a waste solution consulting firm estimates that Manatee can expect to pay between $53 million and $65 million for a 1,000-acre facility that would last about 50 years or between $69 million and $87 million for a 3,000-acre site that would get them through the end of the century.

But those numbers are extremely general and purposefully vague, Gore said, because it depends heavily on the cost of land and permitting, which is very likely to fluctuate.

“There’s numbers in there, but we don’t really know how real those numbers are when it comes to buying the property,” he told the commissioners.

Gore was confident, however, that $52 million would be enough to pay for a site and the development of a 5-acre cell for the landfill to get started. The landfill would then build out every 5 years with new 34-acre cells.

It was a busy day, as usual, at the Lena Road landfill; time is running out for Manatee County officials to find a site for a much-needed new landfill. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

While cost estimates aren’t solid at this point, Gore hammered home that the most important thing to do is begin the search. Board members agreed, and urged Gore to allow his staff to dive deeper into the search for a new site.

“I just want you to go out there and look and come back with alternatives and suggestions, then let’s decide,” said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.

In the meantime, the Utilities Department says they have plans to develop a 130-acre recreational area on the east side of the Lena Road Landfill within three years. Gore pitched the idea to commissioners, and suggested it could serve as a way for the public to observe how the county operates the landfill, especially since the new landfill might become a unwelcome neighbor for some residents.

“I think it would go a long way, if we’re going to end up asking folks to entertain another landfill in the county, that they can come out and watch this and see how we do it anytime they want,” said Gore.

Future developments could see that preserve turn into a walking hill area. With approval from the board, county staff will come back a later date with more detailed plans.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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