UA, city to begin testing landfill for pollutants
Tuesday September 11, 2001
UA may buy landfill, surrounding property if land not contaminated
The UA and the city of Tucson will begin tests in October to determine whether a landfill they shared in the 1960s is leaking pollutants into the surrounding soil and water.
The city will drill three wells to sample soil and water at Tumamoc Hill Landfill, 1675 W. Anklam Road, if the state gives the city permission to install them, said Steve Holland, director of Risk Management and Safety for the University of Arizona.
The landfill holds approximately 365,000 tons of waste, deposited from 1962 to 1966.
It accounts for 25 of 320 acres of desert land at the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill on which UA professors conduct studies on saguaro cacti, Holland said.
The UA will split the bill for well installation and a year of testing - $120,000 to $150,000 - with the city of Tucson, Holland said.
Test results should be available as early as mid-October, if the state gives the city permits to drill the test wells on Oct. 1.
Though UA officials do not know what chemicals the landfill contains, they have some suspicions.
"It's fairly likely with all landfills that old that there are at least some hazardous materials," Holland said.
He said solvents are one type of hazardous material that the UA is concerned about, because they easily move into groundwater.
The landfill has no liner separating waste from the clay ground.
There is no way to sample groundwater in the area, because there are no wells within a one-mile radius of the area, Holland added.
The "cap," or covering over the landfill, is also eroding away. Shoes, tires and other trash sit in the cracks of the dirt covering.
A new cap can cost up to $1 million, Holland said. He also said if hazardous material is discovered in the area, the state should have to foot the bill.
Under a law that requires the state of Arizona to get "fair market value" for the land, the land must be sold. The sale will benefit local K-12 schools, which now receive the money from the lease the UA pays.
The Tumamoc Hill land is the same area the county initially wanted to buy last year, but it backed away from the sale because of the liability and potential clean-up costs that came along with buying an untested landfill, Holland said.
However, if the tests show that the landfill is free of hazardous materials, UA may bid on the land in a public auction soon.
Local governments hold grants from a preservation voter initiativ, and the Growing Smarter Act totaling $2.8 million, said Jay Quade, associate professor of geosciences.
But the deadline for the $1.4 million Growing Smarter grant is in March, when the unclaimed money will be transferred back to the grant agency if it is not used, or is not extended. The grants could also be transferred to UA for purchase of the property.
"The money (to buy the property) exists," Quade said. "It's just sitting there. We have to move on this in a year or less."
And they have moved. President Peter Likins' cabinet decided in July to start the testing in October, Holland said.
If the UA bought the property, it would preserve it and continue examining the desert ecosystem on it.
"There's indications that we want it, (but) we don't have anything written down," Quade said.
The UA already owns 199 acres adjacent to the Tumamoc property, said Arlan Colton, consulting planner and former director of the Arizona Preserve Initiative.
But what happens next depends upon test results.
"It would be impossible for the university to buy the land without knowing what is in the ground water," Holland said. "The only thing we've committed to right now is to share the cost of putting these wells in with the city of Tucson,"