SSWI Highlighted in the Knoxville News Sentinel

From the  Knoxville News Sentinel

PIGEON FORGE - Tom Leonard said he expects the trucks to keep coming for some time.

Leonard is general manager of Sevier Solid Waste, a landfill operation co-owned by Gatlinburg, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Sevier County where most of the debris and waste left from the Sevier County wildfires is being taken.

A separate, temporary landfill was opened at the site off Ridge Road in Pigeon Forge about two weeks after the Nov. 28 firestorm swept through Gatlinburg demolishing or damaging more than 2,600 structures and killing 14 people.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes two years to clean it all up,” he said. “There is just so much, and some of it is not very accessible.”

The volume has gone down since those wild days when the temporary site first opened.

“The trucks were lined up clear back up the road. They sat in line for hours. It was about to overload us,” he said. “They were coming from everywhere. We were dealing with 30 new customers we had never seen before. It was a big influx of contractors.”

The road into the temporary landfill is visible behind the bulldozer Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 and will be used until the new landfill on the other side of the hill behind is ready for operation. The current landfill is located on Ridge Rd, in Pigeon Forge. (Photo: Michael Patrick/News Sentinel)

More than 3,000 tons of waste a day were coming in during those first days. Leonard said the load is down to about 1,000 tons daily now.

Most of the waste has been ash and blocks.

He said he had a collection site set up in Gatlinburg to take metal objects like washers and dryers.

“That’s the best thing we did,” he said. “If we hadn’t done that, we would have had to try to take that stuff out as it came in here and that would have been a mess.”

He said that only recently has he started to see housing materials that he can even identify.

Leonard recalled early on calling a landfill operator in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, for advice that proved valuable. Edmonton had experienced a fire in the spring that took about 2,000 structures.

“They told me, ‘Here’s what you have coming,’” he said.

The temporary site has taken in an estimated 30,000 tons; this compares to the usual annual intake of about 40,000 tons at the permanent site, Leonard said.

The speed at which things had to be accomplished in early December has left Leonard with an extra challenge.

“The current landfill was almost filled at the time,” Leonard recalled. “So, rather than go and fill up that one, we asked the state if we could put the debris in a temporary disposal site.”

The temporary site is located in a hollow next to the permanent site. The issue is that the temporary site was installed so quickly there wasn’t time to put down the required 5-foot clay-compacted liner. Because of this, the waste will have to be moved within a year to yet another landfill, this one on the other side of a ridge from the temporary one.

“I didn’t feel like I had another good option,” Leonard said of his choice to use a temporary site. “The only other option would have been to not take it (the waste) and send it to Knoxville, and that would have been a burden on everyone.”

So, Leonard is beginning to have trees and brush cleared from the hollow where the new permanent site will be placed. He said he believes he can have that operational within a few months, well before the temporary landfill – which he said could hold 200,000 tons – is filled.

Then, the process of moving waste from the temporary site to the new permanent site will begin.

Leonard said it has been a challenging few months and he know things might not be normal for a while.

“We have never had this much material come in at one time,” he said. “We have had big projects over the years, but not like this. It is all day, every day.”