News Local/State

Update: Dewitt County Board Approves Landfill Deal, Ending PCB Fight

DeWitt County residents opposing the placing of PCBs over the Mahomet Aquifer.

A sign in DeWitt County protesting the placing of PCBs in Clinton Landfill. (Sean Powers/WILL)

A vote by the DeWitt County Board Thursday night marks the end of the Clinton Landfill’s efforts to take in toxic PCBs.

DeWitt County Board members voted 9 to 2 to approve a new host agreement with Peoria Disposal/Area Disposal, which owns the landfill.

Board members Sherri Brown and Terry Hoffman cast the two votes against the agreement.
The agreement cancels the company’s plans to bring PCBs to the landfill and also ends the taking of waste from the cleanup of old manufactured gas plants.

The Clinton landfill sits over the Mahomet Aquifer, the primary water source for 14 counties.  DeWitt County Board Chairman David Newberg said this agreement with the landfill’s owner, Peoria Disposal, puts to rest any further talk of issues that have raised the concerns of state and federal lawmakers, local leaders, and environmental groups.

Newberg said DeWitt County will also receive 80-percent of landfill disposal fees from the company that have been suspended since late 2013, or about $1.1 million dollars.

"That’s a wonderful tradeoff – I mean, no amount of money would have been worth continuing the possibility of this happening," he said.  "And as we move forward, we’ve restructured the host agreement to a flat fee as opposed to a graduate fee, there’s a savings there to the landfill.”

Peoria Disposal tried for years to get state and federal permits to put PCBs at the Clinton Landfill. But last year, the state barred the plan, and a permit request was ignored by the federal EPA.

The vote ends seven years of controversy, as Peoria Disposal sought state and federal approval to store PCBs at the Clinton Landfill, amid mounting opposition due to concerns that the toxic waste could leak into the Mahomet Aquifer.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Senate expects a vote soon on a measure to ban the disposal of all manufactured gas plant waste at landfills in the state, unless they’re permitted to take hazardous waste.  A House version of the bill passed last week.  Sponsors include Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana), and Senator Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet.)

Company Gives Up Trying To Store PCBs Over Mahomet Aquifer - 4/23/2015

A company that for years has planned to store toxic PCBs in a landfill sitting atop a central Illinois aquifer now says it's giving up the idea. 

Peoria-based Area Disposal had tried since 2007 to get state and federal permits to store PCBs at its Clinton Landfill, which sits above the Mahomet Aquifer.

But an attorney for the company says it's "closing that chapter.'' 

The board will vote on the settlement with Peoria Disposal Thursday night.

Last year, the state barred the dumping of PCBs in the Clinton Landfill, and a permit request was ignored by federal authorities. 

DeWitt County Board Chairman David Newberg said this vote could pave the way for other agreements that protect landfills around the state.

“There’s other issues out there probably this won’t resolve - but this is one big step for this county," he said.  "And I hope surrounding counties and communities understand it’s a big step for them too.”

Newberg said Peoria Disposal interpreted a board vote about a year ago as a violation of the county’s host agreement. 

If the settlement is approved by the county board, the company will pay back about $1-million in hosting fees that the company withdrew after that vote.  

"We think we've reached a settlement, and we've incorporated it into the settlement agreement and an amendment to the host agreement." said Peoria Disposal attorney Brian Meginnes.  "Hopefully we have a deal."

In exchange for the company dropping its PCB’s request, Newberg said the county also expects to lose some revenue over reduced ‘tipping fees’- or payments for every ton of waste that goes that goes into the landfill.

Meanwhile, pending legislation in the Illinois Senate would impose testing requirements to bar the future disposal of manufactured gas plant waste in any Illinois landfill. 

Sponsors include Illinois House member Carol Ammons (D-Urbana), whose measure passed the House last week, and Senator Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet.)

In a Wednesday press conference, Rose cautioned that this is the first of a few steps.  But he said the county board, environmental groups, and others don't want to try and settle the landfill issue in court.

"If you go forward in these lawsuits and lose, now you've got a toxic waste site that's federally permitted," Rose said.  "And it's not quite that easy, but boy, it's not where we want to be - that's for sure.  So the big piece here is that would pull that federal permit forever, essentially."

With the expectation the agreement will be approved, Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin issued a statement Thursday. 

"I am relieved today by the news that plans to locate a PCB disposal above the Mahomet Aquifer site has been dropped," he said.  "Protecting this vital water source took a coordinated effort by members of the community.  I applaud them for their efforts and was happy to lend my support."

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are chemical compounds once used in products such as paints and fluorescent lights. They were banned in 1979 after it was found they can cause cancer and damage to nervous and reproductive systems.

The DeWitt County Board meets at 7 p.m. Thursday, in the County Board Room of the DeWitt County Building in Clinton.