- Faith Miller
- Leachate and debris rest downslope from the site of a former landfill.
That’s what Tracie Hunt calls the murky green leachate dripping down the slope from the former landfill near her house in the Mesa Springs neighborhood located just west of Interstate 25, between West Fillmore and Uintah streets.
Joanne Williams, her neighbor, has had asthma-like symptoms for the past few months and was recently diagnosed with an ear infection that her doctor thinks may be caused by dust stirred up by heavy machinery near the landfill. She’s never had allergies until now, she says.
Gail Black, another neighbor and longtime environmental activist, says she detected a rancid smell coming from nearby Mesa Creek in April. She contacted state and federal agencies about her concerns, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment now says it’s looking into potential creek contamination.
These Mesa Springs neighborhood residents are worried about the increased flow of leachate (liquid that has filtered through waste) leaking downslope from a former landfill toward the creek. That may have to do with the city’s extension of Centennial Boulevard to West Van Buren Street, according to the site developer and city staff.
The poorly covered landfill has been left untouched for decades, but it’s only now — about a year after the city finished building Centennial Boulevard out to Van Buren Street — that a developer is preparing to consolidate and clean up the undeveloped site before the city finishes extending Centennial to Fontanero Street.
Residents can’t help but fear the toxic-looking leachate that’s flowing into Mesa Creek, and on downstream to Monument Creek. Though groundwater tests at the site turned up high levels of contaminants, including lead and antimony, state and city staff say a monitoring system is in place to make sure the municipal water supply is unaffected.
In any case, the long-awaited work that site owner MVS Development is about to begin is supposed to make the site safer.
MVS has been working on a voluntary clean-up plan, or VCUP, for more than 10 years, according to representative Ted Waterman, while waiting for the city to secure funding for the Centennial extension project. During that period, the state tightened standards for landfill cleanups — meaning the developer had to submit a new VCUP.
The cleanup involves removing hazardous waste and consolidating non-hazardous material from the 18-acre landfill into a covered 3.6-acre area that will become open space, with native grasses and perhaps some xeriscaping.
Once the landfill is consolidated and covered, the city can build Centennial Boulevard to Fontanero Street and I-25, and MVS plans to prepare parcels on both sides of the extension for medium- to high-density residential development and a church.
The developer first had its VCUP approved by the state back in 2006, Waterman says. But the plan was contingent on the city’s construction of the Centennial Boulevard extension. That extension had been planned by the city since the 1980s and only recently became a high-priority project eligible for funding from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.
MVS’ latest plan, a monster 642-page document, was recommended for approval by CDPHE in June, and subsequently approved by the Planning Commission.
Though MVS has taken years to prepare for the cleanup, the story of the Mesa Valley Springs landfill goes back much further — and is shrouded in a great deal of mystery.
Aerial photographs show it was active from the 1950s to at least 1966, according to the VCUP.
But the landfill was never registered with the state or county, and records from the county assessor’s office only date the site back to 1972, when it was transferred from R.D. Von Engeln to L.M. Leigh. The land parcel changed hands three more times before 1986, when it was acquired by H&L Development, which changed its name to MVS Development in 2005.
Mesa Springs resident Hunt says her neighbor, who passed away last year, had said he used to work as a maintenance man at the landfill and that it was used as a dump for a nearby hospital. She’s lived in the area since 1979, and says that around 30 years ago, she found what appeared to be an old transfusion bottle filled with blood while hiking near the site.
Hunt’s partner, Bob Klovekorn, has hiked near the site every day for 20 years. He’s noticed the flow of leachate has increased in the past year or so.
“There’s been no material added to this area for about 60 years, so the gas production ability of the material that’s in place is much diminished.” click to tweetSoil tests at the site so far haven’t turned up any medical waste, according to Waterman, but the VCUP includes a procedure for disposing of medical waste if it is indeed found at the site.
“It did have municipal debris in it,” Waterman says, “so that basically said that the city, back at that time, was putting material into this landfill but it wasn’t a registered landfill. It actually was an old, washed-out ravine area that they just started filling with municipal and construction debris.”
But the waste was never properly covered or compacted, according to the VCUP — a problem that poses a (now lessened) danger in terms of methane emissions.
“Landfill gas has been and may continue to be generated at the project site,” the VCUP states. “... Because the landfill was not operated by anyone, but rather was a local dumping area, if any daily cover was placed at the landfill, it was placed infrequently and haphazardly.”
In regard to the methane risks, Waterman says: “There’s been no material added to this area for about 60 years, so the gas production ability of the material that’s in place is much diminished.”
What about water contamination? Groundwater tests showed levels of several metals above regulatory limits, according to the VCUP.
Water flow through the trash area has increased since the city finished building Centennial Boulevard to Van Buren Street over a year ago, Waterman says.
“Unbeknownst to us, when they finished that section of the road, their stormwater discharge pipe was just terminated at the intersection and, since that time, has been flooding across the trash area,” he says. “... Once it fills up to a certain point, it just drips out or leaches out into the channel to the south of the property.”
Aaron Egbert, the city’s project manager for the Centennial extension, said he wasn’t aware of the stormwater discharge pipe causing problems. But any time an impervious surface is built (i.e., a road) over a previously pervious surface (soil), stormwater patterns can change, Egbert adds.
Jeff Besse, the city’s water quality program manager, says the U.S. Geological Survey has a monitoring station near Mesa and Monument creeks. Neither USGS nor CDPHE has alerted the city of abnormal substances near the landfill, he says.
CDPHE “is aware of the landfill and potential impacts to the creek,” spokesperson Kelly MacGregor wrote in an email. “We are currently investigating the situation. We ... are planning to work on solutions to reduce any contamination that may be entering local creeks.”
"Once it fills up to a certain point, it just drips out or leaches out into the channel to the south of the property.” click to tweetBefore MVS can begin the landfill cleanup, it must create a stormwater diversion system and “dewater” the area, which basically involves sucking up the water from the landfill, treating it at a mobile water treatment facility and sending it to the sanitary sewer system before it can go back into the municipal water supply, Waterman says.
The diversion system should be done within the next two weeks, he says, and the landfill consolidation work (which involves first placing an approved liner) should start in four weeks or so, in time for December completion.
MVS has moved some trash out of the way for the stormwater system, but can’t start compacting until it meets CDPHE’s conditions for the VCUP approval. Those include submitting a design for a stormwater detention pond, and providing financial assurance for monitoring the landfill after it’s consolidated and closed.
The city also has to approve the detention pond design, but that shouldn’t be an issue — the Planning Commission already gave unanimous approval to the VCUP, with no discussion, back in June.