News Local/State

One Suit Against Clinton Landfill All But Settled, While Local Group Files New Lawsuit

Map of the Mahomet Aquifer

Map of the Mahomet Aquifer, the underground water source providing drinking water for much of central Illinois Illinois State Water Survey

A suit filed by 14 local governments against the Clinton Landfill is close to being settled. But the landfill in DeWitt County is now facing a new legal challenge.

Bill Spencer with the group W.A.T.C.H Clinton Landfill says his group filed suit in DeWitt County Court on Thursday, asking that the landfill be cited as a public nuisance. Spencer says the landfill poses a threat to the Mahomet Aquifer ---- the multi-county water source that lies beneath it.

“There’s certain requirements to protect the Mahomet Aquifer,” said Spencer. “It’s a Sole Source Aquifer in the state of Illinois. And, the landfill doesn’t have those safeguards in place to protect the Mahomet Aquifer. And that’s what the nuisance suit’s going to be about.”

A message was left with Clinton Landfill Inc. vice president and chief operating officer Chris Coulter late Friday afternoon, seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Spencer announced the lawsuit Friday at a meeting in Clinton of the Mahomet Valley Water Authority. The panel voted 3 to 2 to endorse a consent decree with the Clinton Landfill, becoming the final member of the 14-member Mahomet Aquifer Coalition to do so.

The other members of the coalition are the city councils in Champaign, Urbana, Decatur, Tuscola, Monticello and Bloomington; the Normal Town Council; village boards in Forsyth and Savoy; and the Champaign, Piatt, Macon and McLean county boards. All have approved the consent decree with the Clinton Landfill.

Under the consent decree’s terms, the coalition will drop its suit against the landfill. In return, the landfill agrees to give up efforts to take in hazardous PCB waste … and will stop taking in manufactured gas plant waste. Gas plant waste currently in the landfill can stay, but with additional safety precautions.

Mahomet Valley Water Authority Chairman Robert Leib says the consent decree doesn’t give them everything they want in their dispute with the Clinton Landfill.

“No, but it does some of it,” said Leib. “I hope it holds”.

The landfill company’s view of the controversy differs from that of the coalition. Clinton Landfill Inc. Vice President Chris Coulter said in an October 14th interview that they had hoped that by taking PCB and manufactured gas plant waste, they could help clean up sites where that waste existed without the protections of a modern landfill. But, Coulter acknowledged that others disagreed.

“As time wore on, more and more people objected to it,” said Coulter. “But we thought it was a good remedy to take care of these sites. So, I think it was just a matter of time, and I think the dispute we had with DeWitt County, and them breaching the host agreement, it was just time to resolve these matters, and go a different direction.”

The Clinton Landfill settled its dispute with the DeWitt County Board in April, and the settlement with the Mahomet Valley Aquifer covers some of the same ground.

In addition to W.A.T.C.H. Clinton Landfill, the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Alliance has been a constant critic of the consent decree.

At the Water Authority Meeting, Alliance member Steve Bridges expressed his concern that the consent decree would block the coalition members from taking the Clinton Landfill to court in the future.

“It (the consent decree) could tie you guys up for 60 years, because it’s for the life of the landfill, plus post-closure,”, Bridges told the Water Authority.

One of the lead attorneys working on the consent decree disagreed. City of Champaign Assistant Attorney Joe Hooker told the Water Authority that the consent decree only blocked the 14 coalition members from going back to court to make the Clinton Landfill exhume its manufactured gas plant waste.

“You reserve all other rights, if there’s some future pollution related to the MGP waste that remains there,” said Hooker.

Representatives of Clinton Landfill Inc. were present at the Mahomet Valley Water Authority meeting, but said at the outset that they had no comment.