The scheduled closure of a Marana landfill has some town officials accusing Pima County of shortsightedness, while others say the town council is to blame.
Marana leaders like Mayor Ed Honea say closing the county’s Tangerine Landfill near Tangerine Road and Interstate 10 would create an inconvenience for residents, waste financial resources and cause a rash of wildcat dumping.
Honea said that Pima County leaders have planned the landfill’s closure for more than a decade but have failed to find alternatives for Marana residents who will have to drive 30 miles or more to other area landfills.
“Where the county really failed is that over the last 10 years, they knew there was a tremendous need for a landfill in the northern part of the county,” Honea said. “They just dropped the ball.”
The mayor also took the county to task for high property taxes.
“Pima County has the highest tax rate in the state of Arizona — what do they do with the money?” Honea said. “It seems like the county is collecting more money and providing less services.”
Not so fast, says Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
The county boss said Marana officials have been aware of the closure plan since the beginning, and he’s got the documents to prove it.
County officials conducted a series of studies on landfills and scouted possible new sites going back to the 1990s.
The one site identified then as an alternative to Tangerine, though, has since been incorporated into the Bureau of Land Management’s Ironwood Forrest National Monument at Marana’s western edge.
Huckelberry also points to a October 2004 memo then-Marana Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat sent to the county administrator’s office.
“They actually requested that it be closed,” Huckelberry said of the town’s position on the Tangerine landfill in 2004.
At the time, county officials offered three scenarios for the landfill — two involved extending height limits for trash piles at the site, another suggested closing the landfill.
“After careful consideration of the three options, the Town of Marana would prefer to see time, energy and money spent on identifying and developing an alternate landfill site rather than increasing the overall height of the existing Tangerine Landfill,” Reuwsaat wrote in 2004.
The former town manager closed the letter with an acknowledgement that no alternate landfill site had been found. That hasn’t changed.
Marana Councilman Russell Clanagan said Reuwsaat’s memo clearly shows that town leaders were aware and approved of the county plan.
“We took all the options off the table except closure,” Clanagan said. “This situation was created by the council.”
Clanagan was elected to the council in 2007.
At a recent town council meeting, Marana leaders heard a presentation on the landfill issue from Pima County Department of Environmental Quality officials.
After the presentation, Clanagan moved to have the town continue working with the county on finding a solution to the landfill issue.
Only Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler voted against the move.
But that was before Reuwsaat’s 2004 letter resurfaced. Ziegler has since altered her stance on the impending closure.
“We were given an opportunity several years ago and chose to punt,” Ziegler said.
She served on the council from 1997 to 2001 and was elected again in 2007.
Ziegler laid much of the blame for the current situation at the feet of Marana’s longer-standing council members.
“I don’t like to throw blame at people who were there when I was not around, but shame on us,” Ziegler said, adding, “There’s a little bit of egg on our face.”
Honea doesn’t quite see it that way, though. He said landfill management is a matter of “health and welfare” that the county should take care of.
“It’s really not our position to provide that service, things like that are county issues,” the mayor said. Honea also points to the seemingly illogical plan that residents use the county’s Catalina Transfer Station at 14425 N. Oracle Road north of Oro Valley.
Trash collected there later gets trucked to other area landfills, including Tangerine.
“I realize that superficially that does sound incredible,” Pima County Department of Environmental Quality Director Ursula Kramer said.
The Tangerine Landfill, though, has nearly reached capacity and county officials say it’s unsafe for residents to haul trash in amid all the commercial traffic at the landfill.
“The landfill has to close,” Kramer said.
That proposition could prove easier said than done, according to Honea.
“They don’t have the money to close it,” Honea said of the county’s plan.
The cost to close the landfill would likely top $9 million. The county has $3 million in 1997 bond funds banked toward the project, leaving a $6 million shortfall.
“There’s plenty of time to find the revenue,” Huckelberry said.
The closure would take several years to complete so the county could fund the project incrementally, Huckelberry explained.
With a new dump likely not in the cards for the Northwest, Huckelberry suggested expanding the footprint of the facility into an adjacent gravel pit to accommodate need.
“There’s no physical restriction to expanding,” Huckelberry said.
Even its proximity to the Santa Cruz River wouldn’t pose a problem, Huckelberry said, explaining that the county’s flood and erosion protection efforts would provide fortification for a large landfill.
Councilwoman Ziegler could have an alternative solution.
A local developer recently approached Ziegler with a proposition that could benefit townspeople, likely an offer to create a waste-transfer station somewhere in the town.
The councilwoman did not want to go into detail about the proposal or name the developer who made the offer because nothing has been made official yet.
Ziegler did say she and other town leaders plan to meet with the developer later this week to discuss the option in greater detail.
In the meantime, Huckelberry said the county intends to move forward with the Tangerine Landfill closure plan.