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Landfill projected to expand again

The operator of a longtime landfill east of Eau Claire is seeking another expansion at the site, one that would grow its footprint and allow it to rise higher while increasing its dumping area by 1.52 million square feet.

Advanced Disposal, the operator of Seven Mile Creek Landfill, sent a letter dated Nov. 9 to city of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County and town of Seymour officials notifying them of the intent to expand the landfill. A number of expansions have occurred in the past, the most recent in 2016.

The landfill is in the city but is surrounded by the county and town of Seymour.

The proposed expansion would be in the northeast corner of the landfill. The expansion request seeks to grow the area where trash can be dumped by 12.5 acres and to allow it to be piled as much as 60 feet higher than currently allowed.

If approved as proposed, the combined vertical and horizontal expansion would increase the landfill’s dumping capacity by 34.84 acres. The vertical expansion would occur on about 22 acres.

The landfill is scheduled to run out of space to dump trash in 2021, and Ponte Vedra, Fla.-based Advanced Disposal hopes to have an expansion agreement approved by then.

Eau Claire County attorney Keith Zehms acknowledged worries are expressed by some whenever landfill expansion plans are announced. However, the negotiations process that involves the city, county and town of Seymour officials allows them to help determine terms of landfill operations, he said.

On Tuesday the Eau Claire City Council approved moving forward with negotiations. The city will be represented by city attorney Stephen Nick, community service director Jeff Pippenger and community members Thomas Kemp and Jamie Radabaugh. The Eau Claire County Board is scheduled to vote on the matter on Tuesday, and the town of Seymour is expected to approve representation as well.

“Yes, there are concerns, but this process at least gives (local governments) a say in what happens with a landfill expansion,” Zehms said, noting that public hearings regarding the proposal will be part of a negotiating process that could last for a couple of years.

Pippenger, who will participate in his first Seven Mile Creek Landfill negotiations, agreed about the importance of local governments having a voice in how that operation impacts its surroundings.

“It’s good that we have a process that involves local governments,” he said.

Advanced Disposal general manager Mark Vinall and town of Seymour board Chairman Doug Kranig were not available for comment.

Landfill neighbors have voiced opposition in past years to expansions for reasons ranging from concerns about possible pollution to a creek near the landfill to noise and odor issues.

Some have objected to the growing mountain of garbage, saying it adversely impacts their property values. Landfill operators have added trees and berms to block residents’ views of the landfill, among the terms worked out as part of past negotiations.

However, state officials have changed regulations to allow a greater maximum height for landfills. That, combined with a reluctance by the state to site new landfills because of the controversy it creates, means existing operations are likely to continue to expand until they run out of available space, state and local officials said.

Among worries neighbors have expressed is the possible pollution of Seven Mile Creek, part of which borders the landfill site. Groundwater monitoring wells at the site are overseen by the state Department of Natural Resources.

About 1,660 tons of garbage are dumped daily at the landfill, opened in 1978 as a county-operated site. The county sold the landfill in the mid-1990s to its current owner, which has changed names through the years.

Garbage from Eau Claire, Buffalo, Chippewa, Dunn, Jackson, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Trempealeau and St. Croix counties is dumped there, along with trash from other western Wisconsin communities and from eastern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities metro area.

Negotiations process

Many terms of operations, such as odor, noise, hours and days of operation and erosion monitoring are up for negotiation. Municipalities may not determine that a landfill is not necessary at the site, and no rules may be agreed to that would be less than what the DNR would enforce.

Debate about various landfill expansion-related topics can include many items and often involves tough deliberations, said Zehms, who has been part of numerous past negotiations but will not see this one through because he is scheduled to retire in April. One topic negotiated in the past was a per-ton payment Advanced Disposal pays as compensation for operating a landfill to offset the impact of heavy truck traffic on local roads.

Any agreement requires ratification from all parties involved in negotiations. If such agreement is not reached, those parties can seek a decision through mediation/arbitration, or they can choose to restart discussions.

However, in past years, local governments and the landfill operator eventually have been able to reach agreement. Zehms said that is due in large part to what he called “a good process” that allows for give-and-take between those involved in negotiations.

“The parties involved in negotiations have done a good job, and I think that will happen again,” Zehms said. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of hard negotiating ... but ultimately the parties come to a place where they feel this is something they can recommend move forward.”

More sleep in Seattle: Later school start helps kids get zzz

SEATTLE — High school students are getting more sleep in Seattle, say scientists studying later school start times.

Teenagers wore activity monitors to find out whether a later start to the school day would help them get more sleep. It did, adding 34 minutes of slumber a night. They also reported less daytime sleepiness, and grades improved.

The Seattle school district changed from a 7:50 a.m. start time to 8:45 a.m. in fall 2016 for high schools and most middle schools, joining dozens of other U.S. school districts adopting later starts to help sleep-deprived teens.

Teenagers’ nightly sleep has decreased, and most adolescents don’t get the recommended nine hours. One culprit: Light from devices that many teens use to chat, post and scroll long after dark.

Franklin High School senior Hazel Ostrowski, who took part in the study, said sleeping later makes it easier to pay attention during class but she still struggles sometimes.

“I’ll wake up so tired I wish I could go back to sleep. At night, I’ll be on my phone and I just want to stay up,” she said.

Researchers worked with science teachers at two high schools to find out if students got more sleep after the change or simply stayed up later. Over two years, they recruited 178 sophomores to wear wristwatch-like monitors for two weeks to track activity and light exposure. Results were published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The scientists compared sleep habits of sophomores in spring 2016, before the change, to sleep habits of sophomores from spring 2017, after later start times went into effect.

Some measures held steady. Naps and weekend sleep schedules didn’t change. On school nights, only a few students stayed up later, not enough to greatly budge the average.

What changed was wakeup time, with morning activity starting about 45 minutes later on school days. Combined with a slight shift to later bedtimes for a few, the average sleep duration increased by 34 minutes.

Put another way, morning wakeup time shifted from 6:24 a.m. to 7:08 a.m. Falling asleep shifted only a tad, from 11:27 p.m. to 11:38 p.m.

“Given all the pressures keeping our teenagers awake in the evening — screen time, social media — this is a great thing to see,” said Horacio de la Iglesia, a University of Washington biology professor who led the study.

Digging deeper, researchers analyzed schoolwide data on first-period punctuality and attendance. Of the two high schools, the one in a more affluent area showed no difference year to year. But the school in a poorer area had less tardiness and fewer absences after the change, a hint that later start times could help with socioeconomic learning gaps, the researchers said.

Exam scores and other grades in the science classes increased year to year by a small margin, but the authors acknowledge that teachers’ views on the later start time could have unconsciously boosted the grades they gave.

Most U.S. middle and high schools start before 8:30 a.m., contrary to an American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation, said University of Minnesota researcher Kyla Wahlstrom, who studies the issue.

School districts resist, she said, because later start times disrupt bus schedules and sports practices, and rob parents of afternoon teenage baby sitters to watch younger kids.

Prior studies relied on students recalling how much they slept. This was the largest to use a stronger measure, the wearable monitor, she said.

Bringing the research into classrooms made it a learning experience for students, Wahlstrom said, “a brilliant way to do it.”