Craig man fed up with living next door to 200-acre landfill
April 28, 2017
Craig — For 21 years, trash has littered the property of Moffat County resident Floyd Gutierrez. The culprit: his neighbor, the Moffat County Landfill.
From plastic bags tangled in the sagebrush bordering his alfalfa field, to bright red campaign signs to chunks of styrofoam to flip flops: you name it, he's picked it up from his fields that border the landfill to the north. The landfill encompasses roughly 210 acres.
Despite clear state regulations that prohibit "nuisance conditions" such as trash outside the site boundary, the problem has persisted, through several Moffat County Road and Bridge directors and countless sets of commissioners.
Inspection reports show that windblown trash was noted on several occasions — in 1999 and again in 2009, 2012 and 2016 — either collecting against the landfill perimeter or on Gutierrez's property. Both conditions are against state regulations.
A recent inspection spurred by Gutierrez's complaints resulted in a notice of violation to Moffat County Road and Bridge Director Dan Miller from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
"During the complaint inspection, windblown trash was observed to have been carried to the windscreen fence, and beyond the boundary of the landfill footprint," the letter stated, signed by CDPHE Environmental Protection Specialist John O'Rourke on April 17.
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O'Rourke noted trash both in fields owned and leased out (to Gutierrez) by the county and on Gutierrez's property north of the landfill.
Moffat County, which owns and operates the landfill, was given until April 29 to comply and to provide photos of the cleaned fields, which it did on Wednesday, according to O'Rourke.
Inmates from the Moffat County Jail, accompanied by a Moffat County Sheriff's deputy, have been out twice to pick up the trash since the notice was received. The "trustees," as they're known, have been Gutierrez's only reprieve in the past 20 years. But until this month, it had been two years since they'd last helped with the problem, he said.
The issue isn't just that the trash isn't getting picked up, but that it's not being covered up in the first place.
According to state regulations, landfills are required daily to cover trash with six inches of dirt to prevent windblown trash. Some landfills receive waivers allowing alternative covers such as shredded tires, but Moffat County received a rare waiver excusing them from the daily cover requirement almost entirely, requiring that they apply six inches of cover only once a week — with no hard requirement for daily cover — due to a soil shortage.
A 2012 inspection report acknowledged that the landfill must ensure the waiver doesn't create problems for its neighbors.
To date, no lasting solution has apparently been implemented to address Gutierrez's ongoing complaints.
"I've always just told them, if you keep your side of the fence clean, mine will stay clean," Gutierrez said.
He visited the recently seated board of commissioners April 18 to plead for them to address the problem. But will the county follow through this time to ensure the problem gets resolved?
The commissioners have scheduled a meeting with the Road and Bridge Department Monday to discuss the matter and say they're committed to a solution.
"It's something that's gone on for 20 years," said commissioner Don Cook, noting he's not yet sure what the solution will be. "We do have to solve it. We don't want it to go on for another six months, we want to fix it."
The Moffat County Landfill opened in its current site in 1996 after the adjacent landfill was filled to capacity and retired. Seventeen residents of the nearby Estey subdivision unanimously protested the siting of the new dump in a letter dated May 8, 1995. Fears that windblown trash would litter their properties was first among their list of concerns.
"On windy days, the trash from this dump is deposited on our lots," the letter stated, adding that the "the trash just blows over the top of the fence."
Nonetheless, the site was approved, with former CDPHE inspector Donna Stoner promising residents that preventative measures would be taken to ensure compliance with state regulations.
But for the most part, compliance appears more reactive than preventative, according to Gutierrez's accounts, and often occurs in response to his complaints or an inspection.
"Why even inspect them if you're not going to do anything to them," Gutierrez said, adding that the county never seems to face consequences for violations. "You can have all the inspections you want, but if there's nothing to enforce it, what good is it?"
Miller, who's been Road and Bridge director for six months, said the sheriff's office helps on an as-needed basis, and said landfill staff also pick up loose trash. But photos taken by Gutierrez and the Daily Press reveal that trash can often be found plastered to the fence on the northeast corner of the landfill and stays there until the wind beats it into small pieces of confetti that scatter into Gutierrez's fields.
Gutierrez has lived in the subdivision since 1982 and owns 100 acres north and east of the landfill. A native of Craig and a retired miner, he now can't sell the hay he cultivates in the field north of the dump because of the trash that inevitably gets baled into it.
"Basically now what they've done is just made my property an extension of the dump," he said.
Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.