Commentary & ArticlesLandfill
Closure and Reclosure
by Mark Wasser, September 2011
We just settled a case involving the closure of a county
landfill. We represented the county. “Closure” is a
special term that refers to the process of sealing a landfill
against water that might flow down through the trash and leach
harmful chemicals into the groundwater.
The county had retained an engineering firm to design the
closure for its landfill. The firm prepared a design that
specified the use of clay in a cover that would be constructed over
the landfill. Clay is relatively impervious and, when properly
applied, effectively seals against water. The cover the
engineering firm designed was 3 feet thick.
The closure was constructed according to the engineer’s plans
but, almost immediately after it was completed, began showing signs
of failure. The clay began to crack and some areas began to
slough or slide. The cracks grew wider and deeper, despite the
county’s maintenance efforts, and eventually some of the cracks were
8 inches wide and almost 30 inches deep. These cracks allowed
water to penetrate deeply into the clay cover and soften the
About 6 months after the closure was completed, the clay began
to slide off the slopes where it had been placed. Eventually,
the clay on three of the four slopes at the landfill failed and slid
off. This left the trash unprotected against rainwater and
placed the county in violation of State regulations that require
landfills to be properly closed.
The county had no choice but to close the landfill again.
It hired a different engineering firm that prepared a new closure
plan and the new closure was constructed. Closing the landfill
the second time was very expensive and the board of supervisors
wanted to recover this additional expense from the first engineering
After carefully investigating the reasons the first closure
failed, we were able to demonstrate the design prepared by the first
engineering firm was defective because it was based on faulty
analysis of the clay and failed to include appropriate protection
for the clay.
The engineering firm agreed to pay the county a substantial
settlement that will allow the county to recover much of the cost it
was forced to bear as a result of having to close the landfill
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