When people drive past Lockwood Regional Landfill east of Reno what strikes them most if they even know it is there is that it's impossible to distinguish the mountains of garbage from the natural landscape. So expanding it into another 800 acres probably won't even register with them.
Whenever a visitor says 'I didn't know that landfill was there,' Chris Thomas, district manager of the landfill, which is owned by Waste Management, one of the largest trash disposal companies in the country, says, "That is the best compliment I can get."
Waste Management, which owns 3,700 acres at Lockwood, has 550 of them permitted to accept trash. It's seeking regulatory approval for an expansion that will add 800 additional permitted acres more than doubling its size. The remainder of the company's property is open grassland.
When northern Nevada's trash arrives it is separated oil, appliances, metal, antifreeze, batteries are recycled and the balance is compacted into benches 45 feet tall. The landfill has seven permitted benches, and the company is filling the third of them. As each bench is filled, a pyramid structure is created. The benches are covered with dirt before crews move onto the next step.
"It's like building mountains within the mountains, but the design is designed to ensure safety to the environment," Thomas said.
Wildlife and mustangs make the landfill their home. Thomas said some workers wanted to provide water for small animals and birds and installed "guzzlers" (small tanks with drip tubes) in the surrounding hills.
"They fill them on their lunch breaks," Thomas said.
Waste Management needs to expand the facility as the amount of trash from northern Nevada grows with the region's population.
Pat Whitten, Storey County's director of administration, said planning is critical because of the time it takes to win regulators' approval of landfill operations.
"They are very heavily monitored by health and environmental agencies," Whitten said.
"That's typically a two-year process, and they are one-third of the way through it."
He noted that the county is providing assistance to the company to obtain environmental and special use permits for the expansion.
"The expansion is really just an entry into another anticipated phase. As they take on a higher level of refuse it forces them to go into another area of their property. They have, if not a 50-year plan, possibly a 100-year plan of refuse disposal and recycling," Whitten said.
Whitten had nothing but good things to say about how the landfill is run, saying Thomas and his staff are particularly sensitive to the environment and the needs of the community.
"The folks at Waste Management that run the regional landfill are outstanding corporate citizens to work with," he said.
The landfill employs 30 people with salaries ranging from $15 to $24 an hour.