Pima County will soon have to dump one of its dumps.

The 80-acre Tangerine Landfill, near Tangerine Road and Interstate 10, is close to reaching its 6,754,462 cubic yard capacity, and its gates must be closed to commercial and residential use sometime early next year.

“That sort of leaves us stuck with nowhere to go,” said department director Ursula Kramer of the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality’s Solid Waste Division.

Kramer said closure could happen as soon as January 2009 or as late as June, depending on how much trash is present.

After the public closure, trash from two transfer stations, one in Catalina and the other at Ryan Airfield, will be trucked to the Tangerine Landfill until the landfill reaches capacity.

Closing the landfill after 26 years will be inconvenient for some residents.

Marana resident Bill Wales comes here about two to three times a year. While the closure will not affect him drastically, the Northwest location is affordable compared to alternatives.

“The thing about it is, this place is cheap,” he said.

Nearby, Rafael Elias was unloading plant debris from his landscaping business.

“It’s going to be a pain in the butt,” he said.

For Elias, high gas prices will make hauling the trimmings to another location an issue. The landfill is closing for two reasons: it cannot safely expand upward, and horizontal expansion is ruled out due to its proximity in a flood plain.

Pima County does not have the funding to build another landfill, making desert dumping a concern for county officials.

The county also operates landfills in Sahuarita, Ajo and at Ina Road.

When the landfill finally closes for good, it will be capped with a mound of dirt, complying with environmental standards, Kramer said.

One of the options still on the table for the landfill is a methane reclamation project. Due to the push for alternative energy, many landfills are being tapped for their methane gas, which can be converted into electricity.

Tucson Electric Power is already extracting methane from the Los Reales landfill near I-10 and Valencia Road.

“Our project is viable because of its proximity to the power plant,” said TEP spokesman Joe Salkowski. The project was launched in 1999 and saved 180,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

In order to convert garbage to electricity, methane gas that’s emitted is transported to a boiler, where it is combined with coal and burned to generate electricity at a power plant about three miles away.

As long as garbage keeps getting dumped in the Los Reales landfill, there will be enough available methane for the plant to continue to produce electricity.

About a quarter of the country’s methane gas emissions comes from landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Tangerine Landfill may be too small for extracting methane, but new state energy regulations could allow for the Northwest’s garbage to be put to good use. Finding a viable way to transport the methane from the Tangerine site to somewhere it can be converted is another challenge to harvesting the landfill gas.

For a monthly update on the landfill, residents can visit www.deq.pima.gov/waste.

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