• Landfill causing foul-smelling odor for Collierville residents

    By: Kody Leibowitz


    COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. - A Shelby County landfill is causing issues for nearby residents.

    Their town leaders hired a law firm to look into issues that the agreement describes as a “public nuisance.”

    A steady flow of EBOX dumpster trucks entered and left the E-PLEX/EBOX landfill Tuesday afternoon. 

    The landfill, over the years, has become a contentious spot in the Halle Plantation neighborhood of Collierville. 

    For years, residents have complained of smells purportedly emanating from E-PLEX.

    This year, a Facebook group popped up with posts and comments complaining of smells and odors.

    On Monday, the Town of Collierville entered into an engagement letter with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz, PC, a massive law firm with 22 offices across the country, including two in Memphis.

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    “We are pleased that you have asked Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz to represent you in connection with mitigation/cessation of the public nuisance created by the Frank Road landfill in Collierville, which is operated by Norman Brown or by entities which he controls,” reads the letter in part. 

    The letter lays out hour rates for three attorneys with the law firm: David Bearman at $385/hour, CC Drayton at $400/hour and Sam Chafetz, the author of the letter, at $520/hour.

    The nuisance the letter hints at: odor and potential public health issues. 

    2000 Memorandum of Agreement

    Back in 2000, Collierville and the landfill, owned by Norman Brown III, signed into a memorandum of agreement. 

    Part of the agreement deals with zoning, ordinances and permits. 

    “It is acknowledged by all the parties that Brown has in the past and continues to lawfully operate a landfill and recycling operation,” the agreement reads. “Brown agrees not to engage in the production, processing or sale of other products from this location without prior approval of the legislative body of the Town.

    “The Town will not withhold approval of any product or activity which is permitted to be present or to occur on a Class III or Class IV landfill under applicable state regulations, provided that said product or activity would not substantially increase the level or noise, and/or odor, and/or dust emanating from the landfill.”

    “There’s been some discussion about interpretation and what the MOA actually nails down,” Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said in an interview on Tuesday with FOX13 Investigates. 

    The MOA, Joyner confirmed to FOX13 Investigates, is part of the ongoing discussions with attorneys. 

    Complaints by neighbors

    E-PLEX has become a source of complaints from neighbors over the years. 

    Residents in nearby subdivisions told FOX13 their belief is the odor has come from gypsum-based drywall products being brought into the landfill. 

    It’s something Joyner said he’s heard from neighbors and acknowledged in an interview. 

    “From what I understand, all of the determination now has been that it is a reaction with a wallboard or sheetrock – gypsum – and water and that creates that rotten egg smell as it deteriorates down there,” said Joyner.

    When asked how many complaints have been made over the years, Joyner said, “it has been a number.” He couldn’t remember exactly how many but said it was at least 20.

    FOX13 Investigates reached out to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for complaint records over the past three years. 

    Kim Schofinski, a spokesperson for TDEC, referred us to the agency’s data viewer to sort the number ourselves. 

    “While TDEC does not have regulatory authority over odors, we have been working with local officials and the operators of E-Plex to try and resolve this issue,” wrote Schofinski. 

    In one complaint dated Feb. 17, 2016, TDEC wrote, “[Division of Solid Waste Management] is working with the Eplex Landfill to address odor issues at that location. Complaint was referred to Shelby County Health Department (Air Folks) to investigate other potential odor sources.”

    “We held a community meeting with residents and city officials and have developed a working action plan with E-Plex, asking them to follow a series of recommendations to address the odors,” wrote Schofinski. “As this issue is beyond the scope of TDEC’s authority, this plan is not enforceable, but as of this time, the facility has been voluntarily complying with our suggestions.”

    The order, from January, lists six areas in the action plan: 

    • Placing a 12-inch layer of soil on approximately two to three-acre area currently overlain by wood chips and mulch
    • Landfill customers to separate construction and demolition drywall at the source with the diversion of the material to an alternate disposal facility (with a goal to remove at least 75 percent of in-bound drywall currently being buried at the landfill)
    • DSWM given a topographic survey of E-Plex performed by a licensed Tennessee land surveyor from the past 12 months
    • After completed survey, landfill with areas at or near final grade will be closed by application of 30 inches of soil as required by the permit
    • Current misting system extended to cover northern side of landfill
    • DSWM to increase inspection frequency from quarterly to monthly for foreseeable future

    August 2016 Collierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting

    In Aug. 2016, Brown met with the Collierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen to discuss the Stables subdivision project.

    The agreement consisted of phases three to six, to include “104 single-family resident lots located at the southeast quadrant of Bray Station Road and Wolf River Boulevard,” according to the agenda.

    The Stables Group, LLC is the ownership group of that subdivision with Brown confirming at the meeting that he is the chief manager of the group, controlling half of the group.

    John Worley, a Collierville alderman, is also involved with the project, per testimony from Brown.

    “I wanted to get this on the record, specifically, because you are involved with [Stables Group, LLC and the E-Plex landfill],” said alderman Billy Patton during the meeting. “In the past, we’ve had issues with the landfill odors. I can’t hold the Stables Group responsible, because it is a corporation – LLC. I can’t hold them responsible for the landfill, but I wanted you to know that I would love to not approve phase three, four, five and six based on the complaints and the emails in the past that have filled my email box based on the problems of another corporation owned by you in town.

    “But I can’t legally separate the two of them,” Patton continued. “So, I just wanted you to know that it is my intent, if we approve this tonight, it is my intent to hold you personally responsible in the future over on the other corporation, for all, on the landfill corporation, for all odors emanating from the landfill.”

    Another alderman later asked if it was still an ongoing study and debated if odors were emanating from the landfill.

    Two aldermen answered: no. 

    Another person: “it’s been proven.”

    There did not appear to be any response to that inquiry or the speech from Alderman Patton from Brown.

    Now, two-and-a-half-years later, Joyner said, “I think it’s more than just in our mind. I think it has been inspected and it has been verified that it is coming from the landfill and not the sewer treatment plant.”

    Landfill owner responds

    FOX13 Investigates spoke briefly Tuesday afternoon with Brown via phone. 

    The owner of the landfill called after returning an email.

    Brown declined an on-camera interview and said the issue was too hard to explain in an interview. But he denied odors emanating from his landfill.

    “The landfill is not the source of the odors,” said Brown. “It is coming from a number of sources. We’re all trying to work together to figure it out.”

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