Marana town government is moving forward with annexation of 1,200 acres of land on its west border, within which is a 590-acre parcel being proposed for a privately operated landfill and surrounding buffer by a Tucson company and the property's owners, Herb and John Kai.
Herb Kai, vice mayor of the town of Marana, recused himself and left the dais during discussions Tuesday, when the governing board voted 6-0 to go ahead with the annexation process.
The Kais want Marana to annex 1,200 acres of land bordered by Marana's western boundary, south to and including 1-1/2 miles of Avra Valley Road, and bounded by Silverbell Road on the north.
The Kais are "working with a Phoenix solid waste management" company — actually, DKL Holdings of Tucson — to develop a landfill on 590 acres within the northern portion of the annexation area, said Kevin Kish, Marana's manager of development services.
Michael Racy of Michael Racy Associates is representing DKL Holdings and Herb Kai in the proposed landfill development and annexation, respectively. Racy said a landfill would occupy 430 acres centered in the 590-acre block. "It would be very, very heavily buffered," Racy said. Life expectancy of the facility is 50 years.
"This is a win-win situation, in my opinion," Councilwoman Patti Comerford said. "I'm delighted to see this come forward."
"It's a win-win, a fantastic opportunity to put a landfill in," Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler said. "I'm great with this as long as it becomes a landfill."
Pima County has said it plans to close its Tangerine Road landfill. It is "closing, no question, and closing very soon," Racy said Monday. "It is virtually full, it is closing, and any other alternative is going to be at least 25 miles away, maybe more like 40."
While he would "not for an instant" attempt to identify a date for a Tangerine Road landfill, "time is of the essence," he told the council Tuesday. "We know closure is imminent. You decide what imminent means."
Racy said DKL "recognizes the opportunity presented in northern Pima County with the closure of the Tangerine landfill." He said the company has offices statewide, including Tucson. While it is not operating a landfill today, DKL has "years of experience in landfill operation and maintenance," he added.
Councilwoman Carol McGorray asked if the annexation was proposed "for the sole purpose of a landfill," or if other uses were possible. The "goal" of annexation is the private landfill, said Kish, who identified the presence of local and state reviews before any such operation is opened. "There are no immediate current plans or development" on the remainder of the parcel, which is currently in agriculture, and would remain so "for the near future," Kish said.
Annexation helps Marana get money from landfill operations, Racy said. Herb Kai wants "to see the revenue from it go to the town and the school district. It's as simple as that," Racy said. "This is the community he grew up in from day 1, and his family has been here for 70 years."
McGorray wanted to make sure the landfill site would not be too close to Marana Regional Airport. "I want to be sure we can go forward with our airport plans as an economic boost to this town," she said.
Racy, a pilot, said the site is "outside the 10,000-foot federal designation" for required distance between airports and landfills, and that the Kai property is not under the airport's traffic pattern.
People at Tuesday's council meting began asking questions about landfill operations, to include truck traffic and tipping fees. "The actual number of trucks isn't enormous," Racy said. "There will be fees, there will be reasonable fees," with some free community dumping days.
"With this, the town comes full circle," providing education, water and sewer service, an airport, soon a cemetery and at some point a landfill, said former councilman and regular visitor David Morales.
"People are going to try to poison the well, and say they don't want a dump," Morales said. "Thirty, 40 years ago we had dumps. Today, it's a sanitary landfill."
Picture Rocks resident Albert Lannon said "access to a landfill is important to us." He did express worry that a landfill would encourage, or tie into, any I-10 bypass through Picture Rocks. "The people of Picture Rocks pretty much oppose an I-10 bypass," Lannon said.
Annie Shellberg, who lives just off Avra Valley Road, expressed "some distrust issues … with the fact you guys would be in control of this dump." She asked that the town "not act in haste," and that it consider the effects of increased truck traffic and higher speeds along the roadway. "I believe we need a landfill," Shellberg said. "Safety should be paramount."
Racy said two "completely separate processes are going on" with the proposal.
With the council's nod to proceed on annexation, town staff looks at an application to annex. Staff analysis and additional hearings would precede a final decision.
Meanwhile, a specific plan amendment to allow a landfill has been submitted to town staff, and is under review. A report would be prepared for presentation to the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission, and eventually to the town council.
"Those two processes are running on parallel tracks, two completely distinct legal entities," Racy said.
He's hopeful the planning and zoning commission looks at the proposal before the end of February. "There'll be a lot of activity over the next four to six weeks, and a lot more of this detail will be fleshed out," he said.
Landfill developer has 25 years in the industry
DKL Holdings Inc., the firm that wants to build and operate a landfill on land west of Marana, is a Tucson-based company with operations in several Arizona areas.
Company president Larry Henk of Chandler has worked in the solid waste industry for 25 years.
Henk privately owned and operated three collection companies and four landfills in central Illinois in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he said Tuesday morning. He then joined Allied Waste, and became its president. That company operated 355 collection companies, 181 transfer stations, 65 recycling facilities and 167 landfills, with annual revenues of $5.6 billion, Henk said. Eventually, it merged with Republic.
"Some people are saying, 'does this guy have some experience in the industry?'" Henk said. "Maybe we can answer that."
Henk decided to return to a private company waste management environment. He started developing "a string of Arizona companies," among them a recycling and transfer operation in Nogales, Ariz., the portable toilet and roll-off company Tucson Recycling and Waste Services, the collection company Southwest Waste Services in Prescott Valley, and the construction and debris landfill Prescott Valley Construction & Debris Landfill.
"We're an Arizona-based company, we have experience in what we're doing here," Henk said.
Pima County plans to close its Tangerine landfill, and Henk saw an opportunity in that eventuality.
"There is a very obvious need we saw as we worked in Tucson with Tangerine closing," Henk said. The Los Reales landfill is too far, and through too much congestion, to be a viable landfill for the Northwest, he argues.
"We see where it makes sense to have a north landfill, and a south landfill."
Henk believes his company "can easily" have a landfill ready to go before the Tangerine facility is closed. Once zoning is in place that allows use as a landfill, it takes "one year to get your permits so you can start construction," and usually three to six months to prepare a facility. Eighteen months is "a very reasonable time line."
Henk said Herb Kai, who owns with his brother John the 1,200-acre parcel proposed for annexation and eventual siting of a 430-acre landfill, "has been getting tagged with it as his proposal.
"I was exploring a lot of land options," and Henk is making the proposal. The Kai property location is "as good as it gets," with proximity to other industrial uses, Henk believes.
"We all make waste," Henk said. "You can never make everybody happy."