AZTEC — On Tuesday, city commissioners moved another step closer to learning what, if any, pollution or environmental hazards may be present at the city's historic landfill.

The commission approved a New Mexico Land Office special use license required by the state to complete a Phase II environmental assessment of the historic landfill. The landfill was capped and closed in the mid-1980s after approximately 30 years in operation. The land office ordered the environmental study be conducted as part of an original agreement made when the landfill began operations.

The "old dump" is on a parcel of state trust land just east of the Aztec Speedway and north of the proposed East Arterial route. It is within the 1998 annexation boundary.

"This is a follow-up to the annexation agreement we did at the last commission meeting," said Community Development Director Roshana Moojen. "This (license) will allow the city to complete the Phase II environmental assessment landfill that was originally on the state lease area."

In 2000, a less exhaustive Phase I environmental assessment, which did not account for subsurface conditions, was conducted, Moojen said.

To perform an environmental study, the city had to complete a geophysical survey and make official the 1998 annexation of land east of downtown that includes the landfill.

The city stopped paying a lease on the land a few years ago, which now requires the city to obtain the license to provide city crews and its contractors access to the land to complete the environmental work.

As soon as the state land office approves the license, requests for proposals for the work will be issued and a bidding process will be opened in the coming months, Finance Director Kathy Lamb said.

"The importance of the Phase II assessment is that it will define for the city what exists in the subsurface at the landfill and to help determine where we go with mitigation in coordination with the state land office," Lamb said.

She added that the city has just more than $100,000 budgeted for the assessment.

"Preliminary proposals have ranged from $50,000 to $200,000 for the work," Lamb said. "We'll work with the state office to determine the scope of work to be done and whether or not the (office) wants to help us develop or create the (request for proposal) before bidding."

The city transferred its waste disposal service to Waste Management after the landfill closed. For the last 12 years, the city has paid Transit Waste to take the city's trash to a landfill north to Colorado, Lamb said.

"This is the final step for us," Moojen said. "There is no cost to this particular license, which will allow us to answer that last and final question about the historic landfill in Aztec."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.