Contaminated soil proposal at Ridgeville landfill a moot issue
A controversy at Tuesday’s Monroe County Solid Waste Committee meeting over a proposal to bring contaminated soil into the Ridgeville Landfill was a moot issue before the meeting even started.
But Jerry Martel, the waste hauler who made the proposal, which he withdrew last month, said he didn’t appreciate the impression it left on his business, Modern Waste Systems (MDS), one of the landfill’s biggest users.
“I do not want to stand here and have my company made out to be some type of environmental terrorist,” he said at the meeting. “That is not the case.”
Martel had approached the solid waste committee a few months ago with a proposal to haul soil to the landfill from a property he owns in Tomah, which was the site of a lumber treating operation over three decades ago. The soil would have been used as “daily cover”, a layer of dirt put over the garbage in a waste cell to keep it from blowing away.
However, the soil was known to be contaminated with arsenic, a chemical used in treating lumber but which also occurs naturally in soil. Both the solid waste committee and the Department of Natural Resources were aware the soil was contaminated and Martel had hired three engineering firms over the years to assess the soil.
“(Martel) was always upfront with the committee,” said Mark Halverson, chairman of the solid waste committee.
Mike Geier, a resident of the Town of Ridgeville, where the county-operated landfill is located, recently circulated a petition to keep the soil out of the landfill. He raised concerns about the location of the landfill, which he said is built over two large aquifers. He also questioned the facility’s design, which he said could make it susceptible to leaking contaminants into those aquifers.
“My question is is the landfill safe, can we make it safe or should we think about closing it down?” he said.
Terry Taylor, who works for River View Construction of Wausau, is the landfill operator in charge of daily operations. He said he is confident the facility is doing exactly what it was designed to do with all the water contained onsite. It is collected in a leachate system and taken to the Sparta wastewater treatment plant to be processed.
Martel, who has been in the solid waste business for 36 years, said to his knowledge not one landfill built to the same standards of the Ridgeville landfill, known as sub-title D landfills, has failed. “These landfills are designed to hold everything in,” he said.
David Heser, Monroe County’s solid waste manager, said it was always up to the DNR to make the determination if the soil from Martel’s property could even be accepted to use in the landfill.
“The soil wouldn’t have moved until the DNR person in charge of the project would have given the go ahead,” said Heser, adding the solid waste committee also could have chosen to accept or reject it.
Heser said the initial testing of the soil wasn’t enough to make a determination of whether the soil was considered hazardous or non-hazardous. That determination considers the source of the contamination – either from industrial activity or naturally occurring, both of which carry different standards.
Still, he said the initial testing showed the soil to contain .019 parts per million (ppm) of arsenic. The acceptable level for soil with naturally occurring arsenic to be accepted into the landfill is 5.0 ppm.
“The initial numbers do not look hot on it,” said Heser. “It doesn’t look like something to be concerned over, however, the DNR would need that determination of hazardous or non-hazardous from an engineering team before we could as a Sub-title D landfill accept it.”
Martel said not one person has asked to see his engineering reports. He read to the committee the conclusion of the 2018 report, which stated, “No significant impact was identified in the site sediment and soil. The contaminates do not pose a threat to public health, safety, welfare or the environment.”
Ron Luethe, a county board supervisor and a supervisor for the Town of Ridgeville where the landfill is located, said he appreciates the concern of everybody involved and emphasized that public awareness is needed in regard to the landfill.
“Everybody needs to take responsibility,” he said. “That garbage doesn’t come out of thin air. Each and every one of us contributes to that landfill.”
He suggested creating a private-well sampling plan for people who live around the landfill to get a baseline for water quality and to monitor those wells for changes. He also suggested creating funding sources for mitigating contamination problems if they do arise.
“This is not a short-term issue,” he said. “This is a long-term issue. We have the landfill; we need to deal with it so let’s educate ourselves and move forward.”