Landfill trash lands in nearby back yards

Brent Myers of Clovis unloads trash from his truck Friday at the Clovis Landfill. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

An odd assortment of items ended up on the lawn of Clovis resident Tana Williams: A list of airmen from Cannon Air Force Base and their assignments, graded school papers, an accounting form from a local nursing home.

Williams lives about a mile east of the Clovis Landfill. High winds this spring left her front lawn looking like an appendage of the waste site.

“We were literally buried under trash,” said Williams, who in 10 years of living next to the landfill has never experienced such problems.

“You assume that when you take your trash to the dumpster, it is gone. But it isn’t.”

Since contacting city officials, Williams said the volume of trash blown from the dump onto her doorstep has dwindled. A portion of the fence at the landfill needed to be repaired, officials told her.

But Williams is not the only resident who has noticed, with displeasure, trash strewn outside landfill confines.

Clovis resident Richard Motl farms near the Brady Street landfill. As a frequent traveler on the street, he noticed the area surrounding the landfill growing more unsightly than ever this spring.

A menagerie of plastic bags, blue and white, is caught along the fence that separates the road from the landfill’s sandy fields. The bags wave in the wind beside bits of paper and empty cigarette packs.

“Anyone driving by would think Clovis has the most critical trash problem in the state,” said Motl, who believes more should be done at the city level to curb the problem of flyaway trash, especially when littering for residents carries such hefty fines.

Clovis Public Works Director Harry Wang considers the landfill a successful project. Yet, he admits, containing trash at the site is one of his biggest challenges.
Inside the gates of the landfill, there is the constant hum of bulldozers.

Several times a day, employees use the hulking machines to cover the trash that piles up in the heart of the landfill — a 30-acre hole in the ground — according to Clovis Landfill employee Jimmy Maes.

Dirt from an adjacent pit is “constantly” dumped over the medley of trash, Maes said. The sandbox-like play is an effective method of controlling waste, Maes said, as long as the wind cooperates.

“This year, the wind has been nonstop,” Maes said. “If the winds get too high, we have to close down the landfill because there is no way to stop trash from blowing around.”

Fences of varying size and construction line the perimeter of the landfill, but the nets for floating debris can’t jail every piece of trash.

Roughly 200 tons of waste are dumped at the Clovis Landfill daily, a figure that spikes during the summer months, according to Wang.

The Clovis site is a waste depository for all of Curry and Roosevelt counties as well as the Texas communities of Bovina, Muleshoe and Farwell. Cannon Air Force Base and some dairies deposit there, too.

The landfill’s financial life depends heavily upon their business — they pay a tipping fee of $26 per ton. Fifty cents a month for landfill and sanitation services is collected from all Clovis residents, according to Wang.

The money is funneled into operation of the landfill, Wang said. The bulk of it, however, is pledged to future improvement projects, including the purchase of equipment, such as bulldozers, Wang said.

“The old mentality was when you see a problem, then you fix it. This landfill was built with the future in mind,” said Wang, who hates to see litter control issues drain a meticulously designed budget.

Employees in his department are working overtime to clean up the property of residents such as Williams. Paying for the overtime labor is impractical and robs from the future of the landfill, he said.

A more practical way to address litter control, Wang said, is to increase tipping fees by 75 cents per ton, and tack on an extra 25 cents per month for Clovis residents. Wang will propose the increases to the City Commission within the month, he said, although he knows commissioners will be reticent to comply.

“I would hate,” Commissioner Robert Sandoval said, “to think about raising fees right now.”

If the rate increase isn’t embraced by commissioners, there are other litter control projects in the wings, Wang said.

His department is working on constructing four paper catchers, fence-like devices used to trap garbage, he said.

Also, a private company could be recruited to address litter control in Clovis, he said.