Clovis California Touts Landfill Remediation A Tax-Dollar Saver

A landfill cleanup in Clovis is about $8 million over budget and nine years late. But city officials say the 12-year project was worth the wait because it will save tax dollars over the long run.

The project, scheduled to finish Nov. 1, will extend the life of the landfill by reclaiming wasted space. It is among the first of its kind in the western United States.

Normally, landfills that reach capacity are covered with dirt and turned into parkland or other public spaces. But cities continue to be saddled with environmental costs, such as long-term water-pollution monitoring — and they must find new sites for trash disposal.

Clovis opted for a different approach for its Auberry Road landfill, 13 miles north of town.

It dug out the waste from the unlined landfill, installed a liner, separated the trash from dirt and then redeposited the trash. By removing the dirt, the city gained room. And lining the landfill prevents contamination of the groundwater, which allows Clovis to continue using the site. 

The project will add at least 35 years of life to the landfill, which otherwise would have been closed in 2015. The city also can use the dirt for fill.

It was supposed to be a 31/2-year, $3.8 million project when it started in 1998, said Luke Serpa — who, as the city’s assistant public utilities director, has been leading the project for five years.

But along the way, there were unexpected developments.

The city paid a contractor $3.85 million to move the trash, but the company went bankrupt before finishing. The city took over and spent $2 million before paying a new contractor $2.8 million to finish the job in 2005.

Also, the completion deadline was extended when more trash was found deeper in the ground. Workers uncovered 50% more waste than expected — about 2.7 million cubic yards in total — that was buried as deep as 100 feet below the surface across 40 acres. And it took longer than expected to separate the trash and soil.

Ultimately, about $3 million was added to the price tag, raising the total to $11 million.

To pay for the overrun, the city’s landfill fund had to borrow $6 million from other city funds — money that will be repaid by the end of June, said Robert Woolley, the city’s finance director.

To cover the cost of that work and future landfill expansion, city residents have been paying higher trash rates since 2004. Compared to 2003 rates, residents are paying about $10 more per month.

Not all similar projects are budget-busters. A landfill reclamation that concluded last year in Collier County, Fla., cost $7.5 million over two years, well below a budget of $12 million to $15 million, said Dan Rodriguez, the county’s waste manager.

Reclaiming the site was the best option, Rodriguez said, because of high costs of land and permitting, and the potential for delays by regulatory agencies.

Reclaimed landfills will become more common in the future, he said, as regulatory headaches and environmental opposition to new landfills grows.

“If you ask people in the business of building landfills, they will tell you that you will spend probably $100 million to $150 million just finding a site … and another $30 million to get it zoned properly and through all the regulations,” Rodriguez said.

Reclamation may be the only solution in communities where land costs are high, said Bob Wallace, principal and vice president of Business Solutions, a landfill consulting firm in Phoenix.

In Arizona, permitting costs for a landfill in the desert are about $200,000 and take two years, Wallace said. By comparison, a client Wallace has in Southern California has paid out $40 million in the past five years to build a landfill.

Over time, Serpa said, he is confident that Clovis’ reclaimed landfill will cost less than a new one.

One environmental engineer says reclamation projects are worthwhile not only because they save money by not having to buy a new site, but because of the expense for dirt alone.

The cost for dirt being trucked in at a landfill project in Escambia County, Fla., is $6 per cubic yard. Pradeep Jain, an environmental engineer with Innovative Waste Consulting of Gainesville, Fla., said he expects the Escambia project to recover close to one million cubic yards of soil.

The amount of trash and soil recovered in Clovis was as much as any reclamation project that he has studied.

Said Clovis Mayor Harry Armstrong, “We now have a site that’s in compliance and we added a couple of decades to our landfill. It will take care of the growth for many years to come and is a good investment for the city.”

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WIH Resource Group is a global leader and provider of comprehensive waste management, recycling, transportation/logistical and business solutions, specializing in, among other services, waste management operational performance assessments, transportation / logistics, alternative fuel use, solid waste planning, waste and recycling market studies, business development and environmental services.  Based in Phoenix, the company serves both private and public sector clients throughout North America and globally.  Our customers include both public agencies and private sector businesses customers throughout North America. To learn more visit and

About the WIH Resource Group’s Principal Bob Wallace, Principal and Vice President of Client Solutions, WIH Resource Group, Inc. (WIH) and Waste Savings, Inc. (WSI), former Boardmember SWANA ~ State of Arizona Chapter (Solid Waste Association of North America), APWA (American Public Works) ~ National Solid Waste Rate Setting Advisory Committee and Member of WASTEC (Waste Equipment Technology Association) NSWMA ~ Phoenix, Arizona USA. (

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