GALENA, Kan. — At one time, the landfill operated by the city of Galena was taking in 12 tons a minute of tornado debris from Joplin and Duquesne in Missouri.
"It's pretty much over now," said Galena Mayor Dale Oglesby. "There's the high school and the hospital (St. John's Regional Medical Center) and some concrete slabs to go, but it's not anything like it was."
Oglesby said the landfill, when all is said and done, will have received more than 90 percent of the 3 million cubic yards of debris created by the May 2011 tornado.
"It's been winding down for some time," he said. "But when it was busy, we had a steady stream of trucks that were two abreast. It was an amazing time."
Galena contracted with Jordan Disposal Service of Joplin to upgrade its landfill to handle the flow of debris, which at times amounted to 350 trucks per day.
"When we suggested our landfill for the debris, the Army Corps of Engineers said we could not begin to handle the waste," Oglesby said. "When we made the deal with Jordan, it took them 10 days to make this thing a real landfill."
In a matter of a few days, the company had created a four-lane road going into the landfill and had built a bridge over a creek.
"We went from 14 acres with one man and a bulldozer, and no scales, to 30 people, 70 acres, two sets of computerized scales and a landfill that was operating on three fronts," Oglesby said.
"It was incredible. The Corps of Engineers wants to use us as a model now for this type of emergency. It's a testament to what people can accomplish when they put their heads together."
The operation over the past year has been so successful that the city has been able to establish a closure fund for the landfill.
"We have shored it up as an actual business to serve this area and Joplin," Oglesby said. "Jordan took care of the mechanical aspects. The city took care of the regulatory hoops we had to jump through. The state gave us permission to dispose of the debris without a permit if we agreed to bring the landfill up to their standards. Jordan knew what the state would require."
About two weeks ago, the city received from the state its operating permit for the landfill. The landfill now has a 14-year duration expectancy.
"This was more than a Joplin-Galena neighbor situation. In my opinion, it was a community survival project," Oglesby said. "We instructed our operator to adjust the rates to help with the cleanup and debris-removal costs. We couldn't change the truck costs, the loading and transportation costs, but we could adjust the disposal costs.
"We kept cutting and kept cutting till it was almost a break-even situation. Right at the peak of it, we were coming in at half the price. That really upset some people we were competing with at the time. There was so much animosity at the time."
Disposal costs were reduced to $24.50 per ton. The going rate was more than $50 a ton.
"By holding the line on the price, the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money was greatly extended because of reduced tipping fees," Oglesby said. "We decided early on that we were going to do the right thing. Anybody could have stopped us. We feel Galena did its part to help. It could be us next time."
Oglesby said the landfill was managed in such a way as to permit the operator and the city to make a reasonable profit.
"We have invested back into the city so the residents could benefit from this," he said. "We earned somewhere between $800,000 to $900,000 after our costs and regulatory fees. That's the equivalent of a half year's operating budget for the entire city.
"It's a lot of money for a city of 3,200 people. We have invested in our parks and our downtown project.
"This is an example of one community helping another. What can I say about our relationship with Joplin? We love Joplin. We jokingly say they are our biggest suburb. If Joplin gets a cold, we get the flu. We are all connected here. If it's good for Joplin, it's good for Galena."
The footprint of the landfill has been expanded, but its height is about the same as it was before the tornado.
Oglesby said he has no concerns at all about the material that has been placed in the landfill. Waste elements not suitable for the landfill were segregated by Jordan employees. Nothing illegal, such as radioactive or hazardous wastes, was allowed to enter the site. In addition to state and federal inspections, the flow of material was audited by a third party.
"The landfill has been here for 20 years," Oglesby said. "It will be a grassy knoll when we are done with it."