At the West Elbert County Landfill, once home to a secretive Cold War-era missile site, work is finally underway to repair damage done by an “unauthorized excavation” that took place nearly two years ago.
Ed Ehmann, the county's director of public works, confirmed last week that “restoration work” began at the landfill site in early October.
“The process is taking longer than we expected but should be done by the end of the month,” Ehmann told commissioners at their Oct. 9 regular meeting.
Under the terms of a “site restoration contract” approved by the Board of County Commissioners on Sept. 25, the unauthorized excavator, Commerce City-based Backhoe Services, has agreed to make a “good faith effort” to repair damage that occurred in 2011 when the company began moving dirt on about five acres of the old landfill.
At the time, Backhoe Services, which specializes in salvaging old missile sites, had been given permission by the BOCC to take soil samples in preparation for dismantling — at no cost to the county — the Cold War-era silos.
But in 2011, after Backhoe Services began working at the site, asbestos was found in debris samples and the landfill site was deemed a health hazard to nearby residents and closed.
“The asbestos was unearthed by the contractor,” said Commissioner Kurt Schlegel, “who started trying to reclaim rebar before they had a final contract.”
Two years later, Schlegel said the county “finally got all of the agreements done” and “they (Backhoe Services) are covering up the holes they created.”
The landfill itself, which had not been used since the early 1970s, has had an unusual history. During a brief period in the 1960s, it served as a U.S. Department of Defense Titan missile complex, housing three Cold War-era armed missiles in silos buried beneath the landfill, which is four miles south of Elizabeth on Road 124 — once called `Missile Road' by local residents.
According to Schlegel, a former Marine, the missile installation was decommissioned less than a year after it was made active and the landfill was converted into a trash transfer station and recycling center utilizing a compactor.
Ehmann said the Colorado Department of Health has been out to inspect the landfill site recently. “They pulled 100 samples and all came back negative” for PCBs, asbestos and other environmental contaminants, he said.
During the public comment period of the Oct. 9 BOCC meeting, county resident Rich Kozlowski asked commissioners when the transfer station and compactor might reopen.
“The issue is not reopening the transfer station, which could be put anywhere in the county, but getting the 54 acres of land put back together to the satisfaction of the (state) regulators,” Commissioner Robert Rowland responded.
But after the Oct. 9 meeting, Schlegel said restarting the compactor at the landfill site might still make sense.
“I've suggested that we look at raising fees to use the compactor as a way to reopen the facility,” Schlegel said. “But, at least up to now, that suggestion has pretty much fallen on deaf ears.”
Schlegel said the compactor, which has now been idle for two years, was actually a significant drain on the county's already anemic finances.
“We'd been running it for years at a loss as a county service,” he said. “It was costing us $50,000 to $60,000 a year” to operate.
To restart the compactor, Schlegel said the county would have to hire someone to be at the landfill full time, “which would cost about $50,000 a year in salary and benefits.”
Schlegel would support restarting it, he said, “only if the compactor can be set up as a self-sustaining operation.”
Once the remediation work is completed, Schlegel said “one of things we'll look at is whether it's in the scope of county government to provide compactor services. It's a budget issue,” the commissioner said, adding that trash removal is currently “not a problem for county residents. There are five active trash services in the county that come right to people's houses.”
Those offering the services include the Sedalia Landfill at 5970 N. U.S. Highway 85; Denver-Arapahoe Disposal at Gun Club Road and East Hampden Avenue; and the Colorado Springs Landfill on Highway 94, six miles east of Colorado Springs.
As far as the old missile complex is concerned, Schlegel said the county planned to leave it buried in the ground. “There are no plans to move forward with any further reclamation efforts,” he said.