Category Archives: Posts

It pays to address landfill liability management comprehensively — potentially in the millions

It’s a natural tendency to avoid the unpleasant. Landfill environmental liability can be unpleasant, so naturally many companies ignore it. Companies often ignore environmental liability until they no longer can, typically when there is a triggering event such as a notice of non-compliance from an environmental regulatory authority or a notice of potential responsibility from a law firm.

Companies that have been ignoring the liability then go from avoidance to reactionary mode. This reactionary approach to environmental liability management often includes more avoidance and delays at each step along the road to compliance.

The unfortunate part is that this reactionary approach has built-in inefficiencies that translate to significantly higher total remediation costs, and greater contamination and liability risk. Furthermore, the “avoid, react, and delay” approach that is so commonplace in landfill liability management results in higher legal fees, engineering and management expenses, as well as lost opportunity costs.

Reactionary liability management doesn’t happen because the parties involved are incompetent or irresponsible: it happens because most companies aren’t aware that there’s an alternative.

They aren’t aware that instead of asking:
“How can we avoid or at least delay these expenses?” they can ask:

“How quickly can we get this liability off our books?” and
“How can we create value while we do that?”

They aren’t aware that instead of asking:
“How long will it take and how much will it cost to meet each of the Subtitle D compliance requirements for assessment, remediation, and 30-years of maintenance and monitoring?” they can ask:

“How long will it take and how much will it cost before we have achieved a sustainable state of remediation where no contamination is being generated and no ongoing capital input is required to maintain that condition perpetually?”

They aren’t aware that instead of asking:
“What step happens next, and who do we need to pay to do that?” they can ask:

“What is the reuse opportunity at this site once remediation is complete, and how do we get there?”

To help landfill owners and Potentially Responsible Parties ask the right questions, Cover Technologies is making available a new white paper focused on the cost/revenue implications of a comprehensive remediation approach. Titled A New Model: End-to-end Landfill Remediation Management, the paper describes the factors that should be influencing decision-makers and illustrates new ways of looking at them.

Email me today to request a copy, or call our offices at 877-587-9433 to learn more. The requirements of effective landfill remediation don’t have to be avoided, because with a proactive approach, those obstacles can be opportunities.

Landfill post-closure maintenance liability: the million-dollar lawnmower

Can you imagine spending a million dollars on a lawn mower? Unfortunately, many responsible parties are doing just that — practically speaking — because, during the landfill cap design process, proper consideration was not given to the cost of the long-term post-closure maintenance requirements of the vegetative support layer.

The primary purpose of the vegetation layer is to protect the underlying drainage & low permeability cap layers. Those layers divert clean rainwater away from the landfill waste, thereby reducing pollution, potential environmental impacts, and environmental liability. Planting of a non-native, cool weather grass is a quick and easy way to stabilize a newly capped landfill. However, these quick growing grass vegetative support layers are proving to be expensive to maintain and not effective in providing long-term protection of the landfill cap system.

It is clearly time to re-evaluate that practice of using non-native cool weather grass for vegetating closed landfills.

Vegetative support layers comprised of non-native, cool weather grasses do not have a good long-term performance track record. These grasses are susceptible to drought, disease, and invasive species propagation. Their roots systems are weak and they don’t stabilize the entire depth of the vegetative support layer (typically eighteen inches) leaving the layer susceptible to slope slides. Maintaining a non-native grasses based vegetative support layer is expensive. It requires constant mowing, watering, fertilizing and soil addition. Compounding the expense and performance concerns of using non-native grasses is the fact that constant maintenance activities tend to further deteriorate the cap as things like mower ruts lead to water channeling and increased erosion.

With the increased frequency of intense rain events that are happening now in much of the country as a result of climate change, leaving a landfill cap vulnerable to large-scale erosion or even catastrophic slope failure is getting riskier everyday.

And now that it is becoming clear that environmental liability at Subtitle D landfills is extending beyond the anticipated 30-year post closure period, post-closure maintenance expenses have the potential to run in perpetuity. Accounting for the liability of maintenance and the risk of a cap failure needs to reflect this reality — having just one million dollar lawnmower may not be enough!

However, effective landfill cap design can support the responsible party’s goal of reduced liability, including post-closure expenses, through the use of diverse, native plants in lieu of non-native grass. While enhancing the cap to include native plants may slightly increase the capital cost of a cap, it can deliver vast long-term savings in the post closure period that far outweighing the initial additional expenses. The use of native grass, shrubs, bushes and trees represents an attractive alternative to a monoculture of non-native grass.

Designing a vegetative support layer from the beginning to include a more diverse ecosystem has significant environmental and economic benefits. Recognizing that the stewardship of a closed landfill is perpetual, even if the maintenance expenses are not, it clearly makes sense to consider a sustainable, ecologically responsible landfill closure that incorporates an engineered bio-diverse and maintenance free landfill surface.

Effective site design can support the responsible party’s goal of ending active post-closure maintenance and monitoring by more practically achieving zero health risk. While enhancing the cap design does represent near-term cost, it can deliver vast long-term savings by preventing any contaminant exposure without the need to pay for active maintenance and monitoring.

Extreme rains threaten landfill caps: how ready is yours?

Managing ordinary rain, keeping it out of the landfill and directing it to a surface water management infrastructure, is typically the single largest factor taken into account during the design phase of a Subtitle D landfill remediation. But here’s a critical fact that most Responsible Parties are not aware of: it’s raining differently today than it was decades ago, when standards for cap design took shape.

I understand why this fact is so little known, in the landfill remediation field or any other. After all, rain seems like something that could never change. But the data makes clear that extreme weather events are becoming significantly more common than would have been predicted based on weather modeling from decades ago.

Here’s an eye-opening stat, courtesy of the EPA: of the 10 calendar years on record with the greatest number of extreme single-day rainfalls, 8 of those have occurred since 1990. This indicates that a larger percentage of precipitation is coming in the form of intense one-day events.

This should be regarded as a game-changer for cap design in the landfill remediation process. The risk to landfill caps from intense rain events includes cap erosion and surface water control system failures, which if not repaired could lead to slope failure and ground water contamination.

Trust me: this is not theoretical. It’s happening right now all across the US. Taking examples from one four-month period in 2014:

• August 13, Islip, New York: 13.26 inches of rain are recorded in a 24-hour period, with more than 10 inches falling during one 3-hour period

• April 30, northwestern Florida: more than two feet of rain fell in a 24-hour period

The good news is that Cover Technologies has a variety of strategies to help landfill owners manage these risks. If you have plans on the drawing board, we can proactively guide you through the landfill cap design process. We can also assist Responsible Parties with an older cap that may not be ready for the harsh new realities extreme weather patterns — to say nothing of the fact that liabilities are being extended beyond the original 30 year limit of Subtitle D.

New landfill caps should be designed from the beginning to withstand the extreme weather that — by nearly every data point available — is becoming more common than ever before. Existing cap systems should be evaluated, and, where necessary, retrofitted to protect against cap failure.

Depending on site conditions and the phase of your development, there are always options to review. Let Cover Technologies bring you the expertise and experience to make your cap design suitable for today’s regulatory and meteorology realities — and for those in the years ahead. Give us a call: 877-587-9433.

One thing that is not an option? Thinking that “rain, rain, go away” counts as a real plan for cap stability.

Landfill Post-Closure: When 30 Years Turns Into Forever

When 30 Years Turns Out to be Forever & Why it Might be Time to Upgrade your Landfill Cap

Driven by federal and state environmental regulations, Responsible Parties have long assumed that active post-closure maintenance and monitoring requirements for capped landfills would end at 30 years. As a result, managers of environmental liabilities have made decisions based on the assumption that their liability would end at the expiration of the 30-year term.

However, with the earliest of the Subtitle D compliant landfill closures now reaching that 30-year threshold, managers are coming to realize (to their surprise and budgetary shock) that their 30 years of post closure responsibility may, in fact, last forever.

This is because regulatory agencies are authorized to determine on a case-by-case bases whether or not active post-closure landfill monitoring and maintenance can be discontinued after the initial 30-year period. Responsible parties rightfully have assumed that Regulators would release them of there responsibilities for post-closure care at the end of the 30-years. However, in reality, regulators seem to be predisposed to requiring perpetual active post-closure care and few sites, if any, are permitted to stop monitoring and maintaining their closed landfills at the end of the 30-year period (We at Cover Technologies are not aware of a single landfill that has been allowed to discontinue post-closure care).

As a result of this new reality — the perpetual post-closure period — new management strategies are being developed in an effort to manage the practical and financial consequences of perpetual environmental liability.

These developing management strategies all recognize landfill environmental liability is almost always triggered by the detection of migrating groundwater contamination. Extending the period of ground water monitoring beyond 30 years obviously increases the likelihood of detecting a ground water impact. This increased environmental risk creates an incentive for Responsible Parties to proactively address potential cap performance issues inherent in older landfill caps to make sure that groundwater protection is provided for beyond the 30-year term originally outlined in Subtitle D.

An aging landfill cap allows increased infiltration of water into the landfill mass, which increases leachate production; this in turn increases the risk of groundwater impacts. Increased production rates of impacted water coupled with an extended groundwater monitoring period raises the likelihood that impacted ground water will be detected at a given site. Therefore, upgrading a landfill cap now reduces longer-term environmental liabilities for Responsible Parties.

In addition to lowering environmental risk, renovating a landfill cap can reduce annual post-closure maintenance expenses. Mowing, fertilizing, reseeding, and repairing erosion on a conventional grassed vegetative support layer becomes expensive over the long term.

The use of alternative cap materials, such as artificial turf products, is one strategy that significantly reduces post-closure maintenance expenses. Another post-closure maintenance cost reduction strategy is the incorporation of an engineered ecosystem that utilizes native grasses, shrubs and trees in lieu of grass on top of the landfill. The engineered ecosystem model results in significantly lower maintenance costs (no mowing, reseeding or fertilizing) and has the added benefit of providing a beneficial natural habitat. Plus, as a benefit for community stakeholders, the ecosystem model does not end up looking like a closed landfill!

Renovating an existing landfill cap can also be an opportunity for the development of valuable post-closure uses at the site. As an example, solar energy development can be more easily installed on a landfill during cap reconstruction when issues like integration with low permeability layers and structural stability can be incorporated into the cap design.

Implementation of a landfill cap renovation program will result in lower environmental liability. And it can be done while lowering post-closure maintenance expenses and increasing post-closure development opportunities, thereby mitigating the costs of sound environmental liability management.

While there are numerous cap design and post-closure reuse options that will provide cost effective, long-term environmental protection, one option that Responsible Parties should no longer consider is just crossing your fingers and waiting for the 30-year clock to stop ticking. Because 30 years really means forever — Responsible Parties might just as well address this new reality now.