So what happens to a landfill after it dies? after it is capped off and closed? We’ve written a little bit about how managing companies are responsible for monitoring landfills for 30 years after closure to watch for seepage into groundwater, and other potential hazards. But is that it?
We recently visited the Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix to find out about another landfill afterlife. The course is built upon the old Deer Valley Landfill which closed in 1976 (the year my parents were married! how momentous). The course opened 6 years later, in 1983. Today Cave Creek is Phoenix’s most popular public golf course with 60,000+ rounds played annually.
We learned about this site on a tip from our most avid follower. So, we met up with our reader (who also happens to be my uncle and good friend) and hit the course.
The course manager on duty, Robert, was interested in our story and even let us use one of the golf carts to cruise around the course. This led to no end of amusement for me, as well as stress, as I was terrified of rolling straight into a green and rousing the wrath of righteous golfers.
The course is incredibly (incredibly!) bumpy, so that I constantly felt like we were about to tip over (no, it wasn’t just me performing pop wheelies). Apparently this is due to the uneven settling rates of the garbage below. Robert said that golfers like this as it adds to the course’s challenge. But, this can also add to the peril of traversing the course. Apparently they used to have electric carts, but the carts couldn’t hack the rough terrain and were constantly giving out (and leaving disgruntled golfers abandoned on the green). So, they have recently had to switch to beefier gasoline carts.
The terrain is also constantly changing as the trash settles, perhaps further adding to the golfer’s challenge? It definitely adds to the challenge of course maintenance as some of the greens have been swallowed by rapid settling. The 6th green recently had to be entirely recreated as the original one sunk away to oblivion.
Though we were told that you’d have no idea that the course was built on a landfill, I did read in a few articles that garbage can sometimes leak out after a heavy rain. We didn’t see any evidence of this during our visit, but it was also 110º and dry as a bone.
Cave Creek Golf Course calls itself “a pioneer… in environmental golf course design. Success stories like Cave Creek prove that these sites [landfills] can be put to worthwhile and environmentally friendly uses.” In fact, there are more than 70 landfills-turned-golf-courses in the US. But should we be touting these as environmental success stories? I tend to think it’s dangerous anytime we celebrate the fruit of a necessary (?) evil (like in the case of landfill gas recovery), and call it ‘sustainable.’ On the other hand, there may be something to be said for keeping closed landfills in the public eye. If something were to go awry (as I believe it inevitably will), making the landfill a public space may increase the chances that it is caught earlier, rather than if the landfill was entirely ‘out of site, out of mind.’