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Bebe Heiskell

LAFAYETTE, Ga. — Walker County politicians got into a fight Thursday about a bunch of garbage.

Three and a half weeks after she said companies could bid to take over the county's landfill, Commissioner Bebe Heiskell unsealed the only offer she received: $1.7 million from Santek Waste Services, a company in Cleveland, Tenn. Santek would close the landfill, turning it into a place to drop off and pick up garbage.

The offer also included $1 for the county for every ton of waste brought to the landfill, located on Marbletop Road in Chickamauga. Heiskell did not decide whether she will take the offer or say when she might announce her decision.

The county's landfill lost an average of $535,000 per year from 2011-15, audits show,and its operation has become a point of contention in this year's election. Heiskell's competitors, Perry Lamb and Shannon Whitfield, both say they can make the landfill profitable.

Lamb said during Thursday's commission meeting the county should hire a third party to appraise the landfill and determine whether an offer like Santek's is worthwhile.

"You're going to do a huge injustice to the people of this county if you just dump it right now without trying to make it profitable or without trying to get the best money or at least an appraisal on it," he told Heiskell.

"I didn't know it," Heiskell said, "but I don't think you can [get an appraisal]."

"You can get an appraisal on anything," Lamb said. "Then tell us you're going to get an appraisal before you're going to [take] any of these bids."

"I'm going to take a look at everything," she said. "I'm not going to promise you anything. All I did was open the bids and read them to you today. That's all I plan to do. We're going to take a look at every aspect of this before we come back."

Heiskell added that she built the county's construction and demolition landfill "from a big hole in the ground." She did so after the county's municipal solid waste landfill closed in June 1998 before Heiskell took office. The permit expired and the county turned it into a transfer station, meaning trucks could drop off and pick up the waste, taking it to another landfill.

After Heiskell took office in 2001, she decided to build a landfill for construction and demolition waste — for the most part, materials that do not rot. Santek wants to shut it down and make it another transfer station that will accept waste at a price and haul it away.

After Thursday's meeting, Whitfield said he would not accept Santek's offer if he were commissioner. He said the county needs a bid of at least $10 million.

The county has to monitor its closed landfill through 2028, according to the most recent county audit. This is for environmental reasons. That is expected to cost the county about $2.1 million over the next 12 years.

Last August, the county took out a loan the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority to expand its open landfill by about 18 acres. The county is allowed to take out up to $800,000 — at an interest rate of 3.03 percent over 20 years. As of September, the county had borrowed $140,000 for the expansion.

Terry Toole, the county's landfill consultant, expects the expansion to cost between $600,000-$800,000.

Whitfield said he would either examine the landfill's operations, figuring out how to make money off the operation, or explore other options. For example, he said, the county could install a methane gas-to-electricity system at the shut-down landfill, which could turn a profit. Catoosa County officials did that with their landfill in 2012.

"This is a bad deal for the taxpayers and the citizens of Walker County," Whitfield said of Santek's offer.

Toole said the county is not able to get an appraisal on the landfill, as Lamb has requested. He said every site is different, and what a company can do at those sites are different. Comparisons aren't reliable.

Toole said the key to a landfill is the amount of space available. One cubic yard of air — the space where a block of 1,200-1,400 pounds of future garbage can sit — is generally worth $12-$18 dollars.

When the expansion is complete, Toole said, the landfill that is still open could hold about 1 million cubic yards of air space.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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