ERIE — It took more than five years for Republic Services to get permission to expand the Front Range Landfill by 122 acres, but the company won’t start throwing trash in that area anytime soon.
“We only have one active disposal area at a time,” said Will Flower, spokesman for Republic Services, owner of the landfill at Weld County roads 4 and 5.
The Erie Town Board of Trustees early Wednesday morning approved the 122-acre expansion of the landfill, along with a height increase of about 120 feet.
The landfill opened in 1996 on a 460-acre parcel, with 200 acres approved for use as a landfill. Republic Services bought the landfill in 1998. It originally was slated to close in 2028, but growth in the area has caused it to fill faster than anticipated, Flower said.
Without the expansion, the Front Range Landfill likely would have closed 10 to 15 years from now. With the expansion, the company expects it to remain open until 2034, he said.
“Our job is to make sure there’s plenty of room to handle the waste that is collected,” Flower said.
Compared to Republic’s 57 other landfills, Front Range is on the small side. It accepts about 1,800 tons of solid waste daily, according to the company.
In California, Republic operates landfills that accept 15,000 tons of solid waste a day, Flower said. The company also owns the nation’s largest landfill, in Las Vegas, which is expected to be operational for another 80 years, Flower said.
Developing a landfill is a long-term engineering project that costs between $350,000 and $400,000 per acre, Flower said. The complicated process is defined by regulations and subject to numerous inspections by state and local agencies.
One cell at a time
Before solid waste is put in a landfill, a small area known as a cell has to be excavated and prepared to contain the waste. Although cells vary in size, they average about 4 or 5 acres each, Flower said.
The dirt pulled out of a cell is set aside for future use. The largest hill at the landfill is a pile of dirt, not waste, Flower said.
During excavation, about 3 feet of clay is dug out and then compacted to line the bottom of the cell, Flower said. The clay is covered with high-density polyethylene plastic that’s about as thick as a three-ring-binder cover.
A network of pipes is then placed on top of the plastic to remove whatever liquid collects at the base of the cell. A granular base covers the pipes, Flower said.
The base or liner, which turns out to be between 4 and 5 feet thick, is designed to create an impermeable barrier to protect groundwater from leachate, which is produced from water percolating through landfills and may contain undesirable or toxic chemicals.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the town of Erie both must inspect and approve the liner before Republic can begin putting solid waste in the cell, according to the expansion agreement.
Excavation of a cell takes about 90 days, Flower said. Another 30 days or so are then needed to construct the liner.
A cell will fill with waste in about two years, Flower said. Again, though, the company cannot just throw the trash on the pile and leave it.
The company can have only one working side of a cell at a time and has to record each day what area of the cell was filled, Flower said. The sides not being worked on have to be covered with 4 to 6 inches of dirt; at the end of the day, the side that was being used is compacted with an 80,000-pound machine and covered, Flower said.
In describing the process, Flower compared a cell to a football stadium. On one day, waste would be placed up to the 10-yard line, then compacted and covered. The next day, it would be placed between the 10- and 20-yard lines, then covered. The process would continue with blocks of waste filling the football field, then stacking up, one layer at a time, until the stadium was filled.
No more room
When a cell is full, it’s capped and covered; if it’s on the edge of the landfill, where it will be visible, it also is landscaped.
The cap on the top of a cell is similar to the liner at the base, with clay, plastic sheeting and dirt topping the waste.
“While we’re doing that in one area, we’re constructing in another area,” Flower said.
As part of the expansion agreement, Republic Services created a landscape architecture plan of “a substantially greater level and cost than required by the federal and state solid-waste regulations for closure of landfills,” the agreement states.
The expansion request presented a great opportunity for the town of Erie to oversee the closing of cells, the landscaping and, eventually, the landfill.
“We’ve had a second bite of the apple here. There was no closing plan (before),” said Fred Diehl, assistant to the town administrator.
For at least 30 years after the landfill closes, Republic is legally required to care for the property, including removing any leachate, managing the methane that results from decomposition and maintaining the landscaping, Flower said.
After the landfill closes, the expansion agreement requires Republic Services to grant to Erie a conservation easement for the entire property. Consequently, the current landfill property eventually will be open space with a trail system, according to the agreement.
Mayor Andrew Moore pointed out during the Oct. 18 board of trustees meeting that he grew up near two landfills that now look nothing like landfills: the Tony Lema Golf Course (now part of the Monarch Bay Golf Club) in San Leandro, Calif., and the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif.
However, Moore will not describe his vision of the Front Range Landfill property once it closes; those decisions are better left for the town’s leaders then, he said.
Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226, or by e-mail at