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Republic to pay fine, $36 million to fix landfill site

Updated Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008 | 2:28 p.m.

A settlement filed in federal court today is expected to make sure a closed unlined landfill just east of Las Vegas won't leak pollutants into Lake Mead, southern Nevada's major drinking water supply.

Republic Services of Southern Nevada has agreed to pay a $1 million civil fine and spend $36 million to properly seal up the former Sunrise Mountain Landfill.

According to the consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, Republic must stop the landfill site from leaking by building and implementing extensive storm water controls, an armored engineered cover, methane gas collection, groundwater monitoring and long-term operation and maintenance.

The settlement follows alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the 440-acre former solid waste landfill, which is three miles east of the city between Las Vegas and Lake Mead.

"Today's settlement will minimize the risk to Clark County residents from polluted water runoff and hazardous waste discharges from the Sunrise Mountain Landfill," Ronald Tenpas, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's environmental and natural resources division, said in an announcement from the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The agencies announced that a consent decree was filed today in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. The deal is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval from a federal judge.

The unlined landfill contains more than 49 million cubic yards of waste, including municipal solid waste, medical waste, sewage sludge, hydrocarbon-contaminated soils, asbestos and construction waste.

The settlement calls for the containment structure to be completed in two years. It would prevent the release of more than 14 million pounds of contaminants each year, which include stormwater pollutants, methane gas and landfill leachate.

"This essentially memorializes the actions that are required in the ongoing environmental remediation project," said Will Flower, a vice president and spokesman for Republic Services Inc., based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "We've been working diligently with the county and the EPA to get to this point."

Flower said Clark County, EPA and Republic representatives reached the accord last Friday.

In September 1998, the current landfill cover failed during a series of storms, sending waste into the Las Vegas Wash.

The landfill was operated from the 1950s through 1993 on behalf of the county by entities affiliated with Republic Services of Southern Nevada.

Following the 1998 leakage, the EPA ordered Republic Dumpco, a company related to Republic, and the Clark County Public Works Department to correct the Clean Water Act violations and immediately stabilize the site.

Republic, which has spent nearly $30 million on fixing the landfill since then, had been trying to push the county into approving a rate increase to help pay the remaining $36 million to properly close the site.

Flower said Republic customers could still be asked to pay for the work, Flower said, depending on a funding plan yet to be presented to Clark County commissioners.

Company officials have said Republic already spent $29 million of $36 million it agreed in 1999 to pay toward the landfill remediation project in return for a deal extending its exclusive franchise contract to handle Clark County trash through 2035.

Bob Coyle, Republic Services' area president, told county commissioners this year that the company intended to pay $7 million more, and that trash customers should bear the remaining cost.

Coyle issued a statement today saying the company planned to discuss "funding mechanisms" with the commission on Aug. 19.

A statement issued by county spokesman Erik Pappa hailed the plan to seal the landfill "so that public health and the environment are protected."

"We urge the court to approve this consent decree for the benefit of all our citizens," the county statement said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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