El Paso City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved purchasing more than 1,200 acres next to the Greater El Paso landfill for possible future expansion but it's unclear if the move will break a prior legal agreement.
The El Paso city-owned landfill is in Clint near the Darrington Exit.
El Paso City and County residents are able to dump trash at the landfill for a fee of $26 per ton, with a minimum charge of $16 for each visiting vehicle.
City Representatives agreed to pay $5.2 million for 1,214 acres of land next to the landfill. The additional acres could add 80 years of use to the landfill. Currently, the City estimates the landfill will last another 17 years.
There is one legal hurdle: in 2002, then Mayor Ray Caballero and the council signed an agreement with residents surrounding the landfill, saying the city would not further expand the landfill. The agreement was signed in a remediation process with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) between the City and an attorney representing the residents.
City Attorney Sylvia Firth said there are issues with the enforceability of the agreement, partly because the City cannot locate the residents who signed the agreement. "We would do outreach with the surrounding neighborhood and the advocacy group and we've reached out to the attorney that was involved so before we begin the process, we'd start that dialogue again," she told a representative of Waste Connections who asked about the agreement at the council meeting on Tuesday.
Waste Connections is the private company who owns the landfill in Sunland Park, New Mexico. El Paso city officials have said that if the City's landfill in Clint is not expanded, the only other viable option would be to dispose of City trash in the Sunland Park landfill, meaning Waste Connections could eventually benefit if City officials are binded by the 2002 agreement.
George Wayne of Waste Connections on Tuesday then asked Firth: "So you'd move forward with acquiring the property without knowing if you'd be able to use it?"
"We believe we'd be able to do it with some adjustment and modifications," said Firth.
The City still needs to acquire a permit from the TCEQ if it wants to expand the landfill into the land it agreed to purchase. The permit process could cost the City between $2 million and $2.5 million. TCEQ conducts archeological and environmental assessments, among other things.
"If the state commission on environmental quality does not give the city a permit, that (land) would actually be a buffer between the current landfill and any homes that are around it," said City Rep. Emma Acosta.
The land owner, Kasco Ventures, initially wanted more than the $5.2 million for the land but the City's Development Department conducted its own appraisal, which legally caps the City's offer unless the City can demonstrably justify why it'd pay more.
According to a City presentation, it could cost up to $200,000 per acre to develop the land for expansion of the landfill.