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A bulldozer operator was busy Wednesday spreading a pile of paper waste at the Colbert County Landfill. The paper waste, sometimes called sludge, is from the Essity plant in Cheokee.  [RUSS COREY/TIMESDAILY]

TUSCUMBIA — A Court of Civil Appeals ruling means employees at the Colbert County Landfill will no longer be able to use paper waste, or sludge, from the Essity paper plant as "cover dirt" at the landfill.

Landfill Manager Mike Shewbart recently informed the members of the Shoals Solid Waste Authority about the change.

The court ruled that landfills must be covered with at least six inches of dirt or soil. Sludge, they argued, is not dirt or soil.

The Colbert County Landfill utilizes paper waste, or sludge, as cover dirt since it is trucked into the facility on a daily basis from Cherokee-based Essity, formerly known as SCA Tissue. reported two sites at the heart of the decision are the Stone's Throw Landfill in Tallapoosa County and Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County.

The Arrowhead Landfill began accepting coal ash in 2008 from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant, about 300 miles away in Tennessee. Coal ash contains a variety of toxins, including mercury and arsenic.

Shewbart told authority members that he will now have to use actual dirt as "cover dirt." The sludge will still be disposed of in the landfill.

"We'll have to haul dirt in more often, and dirt is a prime commodity in the landfill business, " Shewbart said. "On rainy days it's hard to haul dirt. It's mud, not dirt."

He said they will have to bring in dirt to stockpile and use it sparingly.

Shewbart said the landfill has to be covered with dirt every seven days, but employees have to be ready to cover it every day. Covering the debris in the landfill is supposed to eliminate the amount of birds and flies onsite and help prevent trash from blowing away in a strong wind.

In addition to sludge, Shewbart said some operators were covering their landfills with massive tarps, which is apparently also a violation.

He said it's possible the Alabama Department of Environmental Management will ask the Legislature to intervene and change the language of the "cover dirt" requirement.

"I still hope we get an appeal on that," Shoals Solid Waste Authority Chairman and Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood said. "We've been doing it one way for a long time."

Underwood said the landfill will comply with the ruling.

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