NEW RUSSIA TWP. — State officials are considering a lawsuit against the Lorain County landfill if something isn’t done about the stench of garbage, a problem neighbors have been complaining about for years.
In a July 23 letter to Republic Services, which operates the landfill, Assistant Ohio Attorney General Nicholas Bryan urged the company to fix the ongoing problem as part of a settlement rather than face a full-blown lawsuit. Bryan’s letter also said the state was considering a lawsuit against Lorain County LFG Power Station, which converts the gas from rotting garbage at the landfill into electricity.
According to documents from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, complaints about the odor of garbage emanating from the landfill date back at least to 2003. The EPA received 10 odor complaints in 2007, 43 complaints in 2008, 87 complaints in 2009 and had received 46 complaints through July 7 of this year, the documents said.
“Citizens have described landfill odors as ‘unbearable’ and ‘sickening,’ ” Clarissa Gereby, an environmental specialist with the EPA’s Division of Solid and Infectious Waste Management, wrote in a Nov. 27, 2009, notice of violation to the landfill’s environmental manager, Chris Jaquet.
Gereby also wrote in November that the EPA officials had visited the area to check on the smell and found odors five out of six times.
In a July 7 letter to Jaquet, Gereby wrote that she had conducted “odor surveillance” on the evening of March 16 and the smell was a three out of four on the scale the EPA uses to rate landfill odors.
“A ‘3’ is ‘an odor strong enough to cause a person to avoid it completely,’ ” Gereby wrote.
Lorain County General Health District Environmental Health Director Jim Boddy said Tuesday that his office has also received complaints about the smell of the landfill.
Over the years, Republic — and Allied Waste and BFI, the two companies that operated the landfill before Republic — has made some efforts to fix the problem, but those apparently haven’t been enough, said Mike Settles, an EPA spokesman.
“The problem becomes when we make them aware of the situation and they don’t correct it,” he said.
Jeff Kraus, area community relations manager for Republic, said the company is aware of the issue and taking steps to stop the smell.
“Nothing is more important than operating our landfill in a safe and environmentally sound manner for our employees and our neighbors,” Kraus said in a statement. “We are committed to continue doing the right thing and will cooperate with all parties involved including the state of Ohio.”
Settles said Republic has told the state that it is interested in heading off the potential lawsuit through a settlement, which could mean lower civil penalties and court costs as well as a more company-friendly schedule to address the odor problem.
“It’s good that the company is willing to negotiate,” Settles said.
But the state hasn’t always been convinced that Republic wanted to deal with the problem.
In a March 15 letter to Heath Eddleblute, Republic’s area president, Pamela Allen, chief of the Division of Solid and Infectious Waste Management, complained that Jaquet had asked the EPA to rescind a violation notice dealing with the landfill’s gas collection and control system, which is supposed to help control the landfill’s odor.
“I am troubled that Lorain seems more concerned with debating the gas evaluation (notice of violation) than with abating the nuisance odors that persist in the community,” Allen wrote.
Kraus said the Republic has taken steps to fix the gas control issue, including improving its gas extraction system by installing 10 new landfill gas wells and redrilling 26 other gas wells. The landfill has 145 gas wells, he said.
“More improvements to the gas extraction system are planned for the fall,” Kraus said.
Jennifer Kurko, environmental supervisor in the Division of Solid and Infectious Waste Management, said it isn’t uncommon for landfills such as the one in Lorain County to have odor and other issues that require the EPA to step in.
According to the EPA documents, the Lorain County landfill has had issues over the years ranging from accepting — and then failing to promptly report — hazardous waste to not properly covering up the working areas of the landfill at night and garbage fires.
Most of those problems were addressed in one fashion or another when they’ve come up, but the smell has remained a constant issue, Kurko said.
“The driver right now is the persistent odor,” she said.