Arlington landfill is getting a facelift and could someday include hiking trails

From the highest point at the Arlington landfill, the vista is stunningly surprising.

Similar to a view from the giant orange Oil Derrick at Six Flags, the skylines of both Fort Worth and Dallas are easily seen. And just to the south, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium, looks close enough to reach out and touch.

For most people who drive by the landmark — it soars to 605 feet above sea level — or live across the street at the master-planned Viridian development, the landfill is mostly ignored.

The massive, earthen mound is lined with black pipes and filled with buried trash — and has been known to emit a few unpleasant odors, depending on the wind. It's hardly a point of pride for the north Arlington neighborhood where it resides, but that may be changing.

On the southeastern slope of the landfill, heavy earth-moving equipment is zigzagging up and down the the steep slope of the landfill, dropping layers of clay and then spreading it out evenly. Those driving along North Collins Street can easily watch the landscaping efforts.

By mid-April, workers will have added enough clay to officially cap 22 acres in that corner of the landfill.

Then workers will start planting vegetation on the hillside, including Texas mountain laurels, crepe myrtles, desert willows, and purple muhly grass.

"By this summer with irrigation from reclaimed water and assistance from Viridian and city water, it should look dramatically different – that's the goal," said Bob Weber, the city of Arlington's environmental administrator.

The project is being overseen by Republic Services, the company that operates the city-owned landfill, near the Euless and Fort Worth city limits.

Most of the $4 million project is required by law. As part of getting the permit from the state, the city must cap the landfill when it is at the end of its lifespan.

To comply with the permit, the city created a trust fund for capping, but Viridian is also kicking about $500,000 for the landscape improvements, said Robert Kembel, president of the Nehemiah Company that has been driving force behind the development.

"We had hoped to get to this point," Kembel said. "It's a great day. We're finally here."

The plan is for the north slope to be capped in 2020 and to be landscaped in similar manner.

By 2021, the landfill's operations will move further to the west, completely away from the areas visible along North Collins. The landfill still has another 50 years to go and it's expected to handle garbage until 2065.

While the landscaping of the landfill will greatly enhance the visual appeal of the landfill, work has already been done to reduce its smell.

The landfill has 180 wells to capture methane and will add more wells as the landfill moves westward. Rainy days tend to cause the most problems, Weber said. When waste gets wet, the aromas become more pungent.

A system along the perimeter of the landfill also disperses chemicals to combat odors.

"It ejects molecules to latch on the odor and completely dissolve it," Weber said.

Kembel said he only receives a handful of calls from residents about getting a whiff of the landfill.

Trash also attracts birds, especially sea gulls, and the landfill uses a falconer during some parts of the year to scare them away.

Will the public ever be able to hike to the top of the landfill, to see the views, before heading over to River Legacy?

"It's in the planning stages," Weber said. "It could happen in another 10 years or so."

And it isn't unprecedented.

Landfills around the world have been turned into parks.

As the man-made hill moves west, the landfill will grow taller, eventually reaching a height of 730 feet.

As a comparison, Fort Worth's landfill — on Interstate 30 near the Parker County line — is currently between a height of 560 and 610 feet above sea level. It is permitted to go as high as 810 feet, said Diane Covey, a Fort Worth spokeswoman.

In relatively flat Tarrant County, neither landfill is the highest point. That highest natural spot, near the Parker County line, about a mile south of White Settlement Road is 966 feet, according to the Star-Telegram archives.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna