SSWI in The Mountain Press

As featured in The Mountain Press by Jeff Farrell.

PIGEON FORGE -- Before November's firestorm destroyed more about 2,500 structures, Sevier Solid Waste Director Tom Leonard estimated the county's construction and demolition landfill had eight months to a year left before it was filled. Now, they are dumping debris into a temporary landfill while working to quickly complete work on the next phase.

The construction and demolition landfill normally took in about 200 tons a day before the fire.

"We went from 200 to 2,000," Leonard said.

Even in the days since that peak, they settled into an average of 1,000 tons per day.

The county already knew that the landfill was nearing capacity, and they went to the state right after the fire to get permission to use a temporary site on their property, adjacent to the area where they're already working on the new construction and demolition landfill.

"We submitted a plan to them and drew out where we wanted to put it," Leonard said. "I think they turned it around in about a week."

That landfill doesn't have all the linings and safeguards that a permanent one would have, although they take steps like covering the debris each night. Eventually, they will have to move the debris to the permanent site.

The temporary site has cost about $57,000 so far, and the county is talking to FEMA about possible reimbursements, but they don't know if they'll be eligible or not.

But Sevier County Solid Waste hasn't changed its rates, and they've expanded their hours on weekends while dealing with the increased demand.

It's still going to take months to get the new phase ready. A construction and demolition landfill doesn't require all the linings and features of Class 1 landfills that handle more household wastes, but regulations do call for them to have some precautions. "We're not close enough to suit me," Leonard said. "Depending on the weather, it could be 60 days or it could be 120."

They know there is still a lot more waste to come. The estimated number of structures destroyed in the firestorm is about 2,500. Since it happened, Gatlinburg and Sevier County have issued about 760 demolition permits -- about 425 in the county, and 337 in the city.

It's not clear how much of the debris has been cleared from even those sites, Leonard said. "I'd say half of those, they haven't even started on clearing them yet," he said.