Paxton may seek attorney's help to resolve landfill dispute

PAXTON — If the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency continues to insist that the city pursue additional measures to monitor the groundwater at its long-closed landfill — furthering what one alderman termed a pattern of harassment by the agency — city officials plan to enlist the services of an attorney specializing in environmental law in an attempt to resolve the situation.

The landfill, located near the southwest corner of the Paxton Municipal Airport on Illinois 9, has been closed since 1991, yet the IEPA has repeatedly denied the city’s application for the site to be certified for completion of “post-closure care,” said city engineer Mike Streff.

Instead, the IEPA has been asking the city to do more monitoring of the site — which comes at a cost.

“When we respond to the reasons (for the application being denied), then they come up with some additional reasons that weren’t identified earlier,” Streff said.

After years of “butting heads” with the agency, Streff said, the city is now being asked by the IEPA to install another groundwater monitoring well within 10 feet of an existing well at the landfill site. Streff said the additional well is being requested even though a hydrologist hired by the city and representatives of the Illinois State Geological Survey — and “even some of the Illinois EPA field representatives” — have said that the landfill does not appear to be contaminating the shallow ground water there.

The city is also now being asked by the IEPA to complete four consecutive quarters of groundwater monitoring to establish “background levels” for the presence of heavy metals, even though, according to Streff, the city already has “15 years worth of data” showing background levels.

Both requirements must be completed in order for the IEPA to certify the landfill as having completed its post-closure care period. Streff told the city council during its Nov. 14 meeting that he was in the process of responding to the IEPA on both points, and the agency will have 90 days to respond to the city once Streff’s response is submitted.

“I am responding to the agency on why we don’t need another shallow monitoring well 10 feet from the closest one and also responding to them with regards to the additional monitoring they want the city to do,” Streff said.

If the IEPA issues the certification, the city will no longer be required to monitor the landfill’s groundwater, Streff said.

Aldermen, however, are not expecting a different result than the city has seen in the past three decades.

“We have been watching this go on for how many years?” Alderman Rob Steiger asked rhetorically. “I want to see it wind down. ... Over the last 12 or 15 years, (the city was saying), ‘We’ve got this done; we’re done; we’re done.’ So I’m just kind of thinking of ways to put it to bed.”

“We’re tired of being harassed,” Alderman Rob Pacey said, “because that is, in reality, what’s happening.”

If city officials continue to not be satisfied that progress with the IEPA is being made, Steiger suggested the city consult an environmental attorney who has been retained by the city.

City Attorney Marc Miller said the environmental attorney could review the IEPA’s mandates for the landfill site and any other information available in order to provide a legal opinion on how to move forward. The environmental attorney has indicated doing a “once-over of the whole thing” would take her about five to 10 hours, which, at a pay rate of $350 per hour, would cost the city about $2,500 to $3,000, Miller said.

“If that’s something that you’re interested in doing, we can get it done,” Miller said. “Or you can hold off until we’re pushed into doing it. That’s an option, too.”

Miller noted that if the city ever were to sell or lease the landfill site, it would be mandatory that the city have the environmental attorney involved.

Streff suggested consulting the environmental attorney if, after submitting his response to the IEPA, the city is not satisfied with the IEPA’s own response.

“In my opinion, I’d give them to the first of the year,” Alderman Eric Evans said. “If we haven’t heard back (by Jan. 1), then let’s get the attorney involved.”

“I would be inclined to support that line of thinking,” Pacey said.


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