EAU CLAIRE — Nicki Gingras grew up in the town of Seymour enjoying activities like skiing, riding horses and swimming in Lake Altoona. A few decades later, though, Gingras worries the way of life she knew is being lost.
Gingras and many of her neighbors are concerned about Seven Mile Creek Landfill and the effects they say it has had, and will continue to have, on the scenery and Seymour residents.
“You’re seeing something that’s beautiful keep getting destroyed,” Gingras said.
The landfill, which opened in 1978 as a county-owned site, has steadily grown this century. It took in an average of more than 1,100 tons of waste per day in 2019 from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
That volume will likely continue for several years if a proposed expansion occurs. The expansion would increase the landfill’s size from about 10.56 million to 14.69 million cubic yards, expanding it by nearly 40%. The expansion would increase the area where trash can be dumped by 12.5 acres and allow it to be piled more than 60 feet higher than currently allowed, potentially bringing the landfill’s total height to 1,165 feet.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources last June issued a report determining that the proposed expansion is feasible and “should provide for satisfactory solid waste disposal” if certain environmental conditions are met. The DNR is currently reviewing a plan of operation submitted by the landfill, which includes how the expansion will be built, post-expansion operations and a landfill closing plan.
The DNR should issue a decision on the plan by the end of May, according to John Morris, DNR waste materials management program supervisor for the northern and west central regions of Wisconsin. Morris said if the expansion is completed, the landfill will operate for about another decade.
The DNR determined the expansion is environmentally feasible, yet some Seymour residents fear it will add to ongoing issues like noise, vermin, odor and litter.
Six residents who spoke to the Leader-Telegram are members of the Seven Mile Creek Neighborhood Association and oppose the expansion. Residents know they cannot stop the expansion from occurring, so they believe property value guarantees and annual sociological payments should be in place for anyone who lives within one mile of the landfill. Neither of those are currently in place.
Property value guarantees and annual payments are local control topics separate from the DNR review process. Local controls are being negotiated by the Seven Mile Creek Landfill Siting Committee and GFL Environmental, a private Canadian company that has owned the landfill since fall 2020.
Expansion on the northeast end of the landfill site cannot begin unless local control negotiations are settled and the DNR approves the landfill operation plan. Local control negotiations also require final approval from the Seymour Town Board, Eau Claire County Board and Eau Claire City Council.
The DNR inspects the landfill multiple times during expansion construction and must approve a final construction report. Only then can waste be put in the new area.
It is uncertain when local control negotiations will be finalized. They began in 2019, and GFL took over the expansion proposal last year. Doug Kranig, chairman of the Landfill Siting Committee, said the ownership change and COVID-19 pandemic slowed down negotiations, which the committee had hoped to finish last year.
Last week’s election could affect how things proceed. Kranig, who lost the Seymour Town Board chair election to Jessica Janssen, remains chairman of the siting committee. That could change depending on what the town board decides to do.
Anders Helquist, attorney for the Landfill Siting Committee, submitted the committee’s most recent proposal to GFL Environmental this February. Helquist said it included an increased tonnage fee paid from GFL to the town of Seymour, Eau Claire County and the city of Eau Claire; property value guarantees for landowners within three-fourths of a mile from the landfill and annual sociological payments of $1,500 for landowners within three-fourths of a mile from the landfill. Other aspects include enhanced litter control; an odor suppression system; visual impact mitigation; potential solar energy development; and post-landfill use as a conservancy.
The next step involves GFL making a counteroffer to the committee’s proposal, the timeline of which is unknown. GFL could not be reached for comment.
The proposal from the siting committee, which is composed of representatives from the town of Seymour, Eau Claire County and city of Eau Claire, is similar to requests in a Feb. 16 letter from an attorney representing the Seven Mile Creek Neighborhood Association. There are differences, though, most notably who is included in property value guarantees and annual payments.
The Neighborhood Association, a group of about 100 residents who live near the landfill, proposed property value guarantees for residents within one mile of the landfill. It also proposed annual payments of $3,500 for residents within a half-mile of the landfill and $2,000 for those between a half-mile and one mile of the landfill. According to the attorney letter, “reducing the radius of homeowners eligible for sociological payments or property value protection from one mile to three-fourths of a mile excludes 31% of the neighbors.”
The Neighborhood Association also seeks more transparency, noting that the most recent Landfill Siting Committee meeting open to the public occurred in February 2020. The attorney letter asked that the committee “immediately post every offer and counteroffer exchanged between the landfill and the siting committee online, as well as any information shared between the two parties.”
“If the process is not transparent, the result will lack legitimacy,” the attorney wrote.
Residents near the landfill do not feel they have been adequately represented on the local committees, which is why the Neighborhood Association requested one of its members be appointed to the siting committee and the Seven Mile Creek Landfill Standing Committee, which oversees the landfill.
“Our voice in this has been silenced,” said Kathy Campbell, Neighborhood Association member. “Our feeling as a group is that we’ve been shut out of the process, and as a result we were shut out of any protections the process would’ve given us, and we can’t allow that anymore.”
Campbell said someone directly impacted by the landfill would provide better representation for the residents most affected and increase trust between residents and GFL.
Kranig, the siting committee chairman, does not think it is necessary to have a Neighborhood Association member on the committees, saying affected residents often express their views.
“We hear those concerns all the time,” Kranig said. “They can talk with the standing committee any time. We have public comment periods at every open meeting … We have pretty much heard from everybody.”
Kranig also said one mile from the landfill is likely too far to receive annual sociological payments.
“Typically, people that distance away are not affected,” Kranig said.
Residents disagreed. Roxanne Backowski lives about one mile from the landfill and said she often deals with noise, litter and odor while trying to enjoy the outdoors. Backowski and her husband moved to the area about four years ago and liked the rural privacy it afforded them.
Indeed, all residents told the Leader-Telegram they enjoy Seymour’s natural scenery and want to preserve it.
“It’s a really family-oriented area with a lot of really good people,” resident Pamela Novak said. “We have a beautiful home. We want to keep it that way.”
Kathy and Dennis Campbell, who live about a half-mile from the landfill, moved to Seymour in 1996, attracted by the peaceful surroundings.
“If it weren’t for the landfill, it would be a beautiful area,” Dennis Campbell said. “As it gets bigger, the problems multiply exponentially.”
Seymour resident Tony Kornfeind, who lives about a mile from the landfill and was drawn to the area’s seclusion, agreed.
“The bigger this thing gets, the scarier it gets,” Kornfeind said. “Driving by the dump and seeing that big mound of trash, it’s like, ‘Wow … when is it going to stop?’”
Property value impact
Those concerns are why Neighborhood Association residents are fighting for annual payments and property value guarantees, which ensure that homeowners receive fair value in a sale.
Kranig said no study has shown the negative impacts on property values near Seven Mile Creek Landfill, but national reports indicate otherwise. According to a 2005 study by Richard Ready, then a professor at Penn State, the closer a person lives to a landfill, and the larger the landfill is, the more likely a person’s property value will be negatively impacted.
“Landfills that accept high volumes of waste … decrease adjacent residential property values by 12.9% on average,” Ready wrote. “This impact diminishes with distance at a gradient of 5.9% per mile.”
The study defined high-volume landfills as those that accept more than 500 tons of waste per day. According to Morris, a 2019 annual report shows Seven Mile Creek Landfill accepted 416,623 tons of waste that year, about 1,141 tons per day.
The study found that “99.8% of high-volume landfills would be expected to have negative impacts on nearby property values.”
Gingras said many Seymour residents don’t live close enough to be directly impacted by the landfill, so they may not believe all of the Neighborhood Association’s concerns.
“It really does affect us, and we’re not just saying it to say it,” Gingras said. “If we didn’t care and if it didn’t affect us, we wouldn’t be going to all these extremes.”
Supervisor Joe Knight represents the area on the County Board. He lives about three miles from the landfill, far enough away to be unaffected, but said he believes his constituents who reside close to the landfill.
Knight thinks people living near the landfill should receive some type of payment. The town, county and city all receive money from tonnage fees, “but the people who bear the brunt of the cost aren’t being compensated,” Knight said.
Tonnage fees are paid by the landfill owner to the town of Seymour, Eau Claire County and city of Eau Claire. The fees help pay for effects like wear and tear caused by garbage trucks on county roads. The siting committee’s most recent proposal involves raising the fee from about $1.70 to $3.35 per ton of garbage.
Neighborhood Association members support the three municipalities receiving tonnage fees, and they also want compensation for the costs of residing near the landfill. Those costs most often occur in the form of noise, bad odor, poor aesthetics and litter. A perk is that Seymour residents can dump their waste at the landfill free of charge for a few hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but residents say that is one upside compared to several downsides.
Morris said odor and noise will continue but not worsen if the landfill expansion is approved. He added that the landfill plan of operation anticipates daily waste volume staying the same after the expansion.
Kranig said issues like dust and litter have improved but that bad smells are very tough to fully remove. Residents agreed that the litter problem has gotten better but said it hasn’t gone away.
Novak, who lives about a mile from the landfill, said litter is a constant nuisance and that she often picks up debris in her yard.
“We take pride in our property, and we don’t need it scattered with litter,” Novak said.
That raises a question: if living near the landfill is so bad, why not move away? Residents said that is far easier said than done when many have strong connections to the area.
The Campbells said they haven’t seriously considered moving because they were repeatedly assured over the years by landfill operators that the landfill would close. That has not happened, and the expansion would likely add a decade to the landfill’s lifespan. The Campbells want to retire at their current home, but if the landfill continues to grow, they aren’t sure they will.
Another factor is that, without property value guarantees, it is uncertain how much demand would exist to purchase a house near a growing landfill.
“We’re in a tough spot,” Kathy Campbell said. “Do we continue to invest in a home and try to sell it with the idea that we might get a lot less than what it’s worth (or) maybe not even be able to sell it?”
Novak plans to retire at her current home and called it unfair to potentially face the choice of leaving, but she said her family may consider it if landfill impacts worsen.
“It’s like we’re being forced to move just so we can have a decent, healthy life without all this noise and litter and smell,” Novak said.
Residents said the multitude of landfill issues sometimes make them feel powerless.
“It makes you feel like … you have no control over your surroundings,” Gingras said.
“The stressors of being a homeowner are amplified by what seems like an uncontrollable negative impact,” Backowski said.
Kornfeind called it an uphill battle for Neighborhood Association members to make their voices heard, but they “gotta keep pushing,” he said.
The situation presents difficulties, but residents will continue advocating for what they believe is fair compensation.
“It’s not too late,” Kathy Campbell said. “We just have to have that (siting) committee stand strong and say, ‘You gotta take care of these people.’ Hopefully that’s going to happen, and it’ll have been worth all of this time and effort.”
EAU CLAIRE — A rough road on a growing part of Eau Claire’s north side is in need of a repaving or a major overhaul, and city officials are asking residents which option they’d prefer.
The nearly mile-long stretch of Jeffers Road between the North Crossing and County Line Road is slated for a construction project in 2022 that will be partially funded by the state Department of Transportation.
Development along the road in recent years has led the city to lean toward entirely rebuilding the roadway and making it more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.
“We are trying to accommodate the existing growth that has happened out there and the potential growth,” said Leah Ness, deputy city engineer.
There is a growing residential neighborhood along the portion of Jeffers Road set for construction and the city — aided by donors — also built a park in that area in 2015.
Under the city’s preferred road construction option, it would remain two lanes of traffic, but bike lanes would be added. Along one side of the road there would be a sidewalk added while the opposite side of the street would gain a paved multi-use recreational trail.
The current road just has a narrow shoulder, but the city proposes adding curb and gutter as part of an improved drainage system.
The city does have a state grant that will pay for $569,000 of the roadwork as that part of Jeffers Road is a collector street that intersections with Highway 312 (North Crossing).
Initially that appeared to cover about half the costs of a total overhaul of the road, but that is no longer the case as engineers learned about weak soil underneath Jeffers Road.
An early estimate for the project was $1.05 million, according to Ness. But it is now estimated to cost $2.5 million to $3 million.
The higher cost came after engineers sampled the subsurface conditions, ruling that entirely new sand and gravel would need to be hauled in to rebuild the road. Ness also remarked that recent increases in fuel costs needed to transport materials and run heavy machinery also contributed to the rising estimate.
A presentation of the pros and cons of the options being considered pointed out the price difference and another complication in widening the road.
“It is more expensive, and new right of way would need to be acquired along both sides of the road,” the presentation stated.
For the residences along Jeffers Road, the project map shows slivers of their front and side yards would be impacted by widening the roadway.
Ness said that land would be impacted during construction by changing their slope to improve drainage.
“For the most part it’s just some general grading in their yards,” she said.
On the west side of Jeffers Road where community gardens, a yard waste and brush site, and the city park are located, it would also mean impacts to those facilities.
The biggest would be for the gardens — plots rented by Eau Claire residents who grow produce there — which would need to relocate their current access path that is close to the road.
Another option for fixing Jeffers Road would be to just resurface the road with a new three-inch thick layer of asphalt. The cost for that is estimated at $417,500.
But the engineers state that would quickly deteriorate.
“A new pavement layer would be a great improvement over the existing condition but would not last very long,” stated the presentation. “The underlying pavement and soil problems would not be fixed.”
Before moving ahead with drawing up plans for next year’s road construction project, the city and hired consultant CBS² are seeking feedback on the recommended option to overhaul the road.
Eau Claire residents are able to ask questions or raise concerns about the plan to Ness and project manager John Beckfield at CBS² via phone or email until April 23.
TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday declared an “enduring and ironclad” American commitment to Israel, reinforcing support at a tense time in Israeli politics and amid questions about the Biden administration’s efforts to revive nuclear negotiations with Israel’s archenemy, Iran.
Austin’s first talks in Israel since he became Pentagon chief in January come as the United States seeks to leverage Middle East diplomatic progress made by the Trump administration, which brokered a deal normalizing relations between Israel and several Arab states.
By coincidence or not, the defense secretary arrived as Iran reported that its underground Natanz nuclear facility lost power just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster.
If Israel caused the blackout, it would further heighten tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East. Iran called it an act of “nuclear terrorism,” but did not immediately blame anyone directly.
After meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, Austin said he had reaffirmed “our commitment to Israel is enduring and ironclad.” Austin made no mention of Iran. Gantz, in his own remarks while standing beside Austin, said his country views the United States as a “full partner” against threats, “not the least, Iran.” Neither official took questions from reporters.
“The Tehran of today presents a strategic threat to international security, the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said in his prepared statement. “We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the state of Israel.”
Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank, said Austin’s visit is important in part because it is the first by a member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.
“They want to show that they did come here with clean hands and they want to listen,” Guzansky said. “They want to listen to Israel’s worries and perhaps other partners’ worries about the negotiation about Iran.”
Austin is steeped in the finer points of Middle East defense and security issues. He served four years as head of U.S. Central Command, capping a 41-year Army career that included commanding U.S. forces in Iraq.
Flying overnight from Washington, Austin arrived in Tel Aviv in the tense aftermath of the country’s fourth inconclusive election in the past two years. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin last week gave embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the difficult task of trying to form a new government.
The key backdrop to Austin’s visit is the Israeli government’s concern about the Biden administration’s attempt to work out an arrangement to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, which in Israel’s view is fatally flawed. Netanyahu has for years described Iran as an existential threat to his nation due to Iran’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon and its support for militant groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Netanyahu, leading a state with its own secret nuclear weapons program, has accused Iran of seeking nuclear weapons to use with its ballistic missiles. Iran has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful. Netanyahu has also kept up his criticism of the Iran nuclear deal, which, if followed, strictly limits Tehran’s ability to enrich and stockpile uranium, blocking it from being able to make a weapon.
“History has taught us that deals like this, with extremist regimes like this, are worth nothing,” Netanyahu said last week.
Last week, an Iranian ship said to be acting as a Revolutionary Guard base off the coast of Yemen was struck by an explosion. Iran blamed Israel for the blast.
In addition to repeated assurances by Republican and Democratic administrations that the United States will endeavor to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge over its regional adversaries, Washington for years has invested heavily in helping Israel develop missile defense technologies.
Iron Dome is one of the most-touted successes in Israel missile defense. It is a mobile anti-rocket system developed to intercept short-range unguided rockets. It has shot down more than 2,000 projectiles fired from the Gaza Strip since it was deployed a decade ago. The U.S. Army recently bought two Iron Dome batteries at the request of Congress to counter cruise missiles.
There are questions in Israel about U.S. intentions in shifting military priorities away from the Middle East in order to focus more intensively on China and Russia as more significant threats to U.S. security.
Iran is the central source of concern by Israel and by support groups in the United States. The Jewish Institute for National Security of America, or JINSA, argued in a report last week that such a shift in U.S. priorities would “send the wrong” signal as the Biden administration begins indirect talks with Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with international powers. President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018.
“With reduced defensive capabilities and perceived American retrenchment from the region, Tehran and its proxies will only be incentivized to pursue even more dangerous actions to destabilize its neighbors,” the JINSA report said.
Michael Makovsky, the president of JINSA and a former Pentagon official, said Austin’s visit is especially timely, given the Biden administration’s moves toward engaging Iran on its nuclear program.
“Embracing and strengthening Israel sends a pointed signal to Iran, which will only enhance a credible military option against Iran and U.S. leverage in the talks,” Makovsky said in a statement.