EAU CLAIRE — During its first meeting of 2021, the Seven Mile Creek Landfill Siting Committee on Wednesday elected a new chairperson, received an update on local control negotiations with the landfill operator and heard concerns from the public.
The Landfill Siting Committee elected Stephen Nick, who was serving as committee secretary, as the new committee chairman. The committee also elected Jessica Janssen as the new committee secretary. Janssen won an April election for Seymour Town Board chair over former committee Chairman Doug Kranig.
GFL Environmental, a private Canadian company that has owned Seven Mile Creek Landfill since fall 2020, is currently proposing an expansion that would increase the landfill’s size from about 10.56 million to 14.69 million cubic yards. The expansion would likely add about a decade to the lifespan of the landfill, which opened in 1978.
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.
Expansion on 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.
Anders Helquist, attorney for the Landfill Siting Committee, said Wednesday that the committee and GFL are at an impasse regarding local control negotiations, most notably in three areas: tonnage fees, annual sociological payments and property value guarantees.
“We’ve reached a bit of a standstill with negotiations with the landfill, simply because they’re not giving on certain issues that are important to the committee,” Helquist said.
The committee met in a closed session for about three hours Wednesday and discussed how it wants to respond to the latest local control offer from GFL, which Nick said the committee received in April.
Going forward, Helquist will contact a GFL attorney to set up the next negotiation meeting. If progress is made during that negotiation, the Landfill Siting Committee could hold its next meeting in the near future.
Helquist submitted the committee’s most recent proposal to GFL in February. It included increasing tonnage fees from $1.70 to $3.35 per ton of waste that is 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.
The proposal from the siting committee is similar to requests in a February letter from an attorney representing the Seven Mile Creek Neighborhood Association, a group of about 100 residents who live near the landfill. The Neighborhood Association recently proposed property value guarantees for homeowners 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.
If a local control agreement cannot be reached, Helquist said there are two main options to potentially resolve negotiations: mediation and arbitration. Both of those options involve a third party being involved in the final outcome of the negotiation in addition to the committee and GFL.
Nick, the new committee chairman, hopes negotiations between the committee and landfill operator, which began in 2019, can be reached soon.
“We look forward to (GFL) partnering with us on those objectives and frankly doing so in a very timely manner,” Nick said. “This has been a negotiation well longer than any other that I’ve been involved with and needs to come to a prompt, mutually agreeable solution.”
Nick expressed disappointment that GFL has not yet proposed a property value guarantee. He encouraged GFL to negotiate reasonably and be a good community steward in the short- and long-term.
“From the beginning, the committee has been focused on reducing neighborhood and community impacts from this landfill,” Nick said. “This landfill and the substantial expansion that’s being proposed by GFL amounts to an entirely new landfill in effect placed on top of an existing substantial (landfill).”
The landfill’s “impacts on the community, specifically on those neighboring the landfill, should be mitigated to the greatest extent possible by this landfill operator and owner,” Nick said.
Indeed, Seven Mile Creek Neighborhood Association members want compensation for the costs of residing near the landfill. They said those costs most often occur in the form of noise, bad odor, poor aesthetics and litter.
Nick recognized that the DNR approved the landfill expansion proposal, but he said the expansion must occur responsibly and prioritize stewardship of the surrounding area and people.
“I want to hear from (GFL) that they reject what I frankly view as the tone-deaf decisions that they’ve taken, failing to recognize their long-term stewardship obligations,” Nick said.
Nick said those obligations include reducing the daily amount of garbage brought to the landfill and investing in long-term solar power at the facility. Seven Mile Creek Landfill took in an average of more than 1,100 tons of waste per day in 2019 from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
“While we can’t require that (GFL) limit waste from outside the state, that doesn’t mean they can’t voluntarily do so,” Nick said.
Three people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting in favor of improved compensation for Seymour residents near the landfill.
County Board Supervisor Nancy Coffey was one of the public speakers. Without property value guarantees and annual payments, Coffey expressed concern with the homes near the landfill decreasing in value and then being bought by the landfill operator, which could then further expand the landfill site.
“If we don’t press for property value guarantees, our landfill’s going to get bigger and bigger,” Coffey said.
Nick and Coffey also mentioned limiting the landfill to its current proposed height. If the proposed expansion occurs, Seven Mile Creek Landfill would stand about 1,165 feet tall and likely be the highest point in Eau Claire County.
“We understand that (GFL has) the ability to expand to that height, but should they?” Nick said. “If they are to expand to that permitted height, I think we should look for commitments that they don’t expand higher.”
Nick and Kathy Campbell, one of the public speakers and a member of the Seven Mile Creek Neighborhood Association, mentioned the importance of ensuring better protections and compensation for the duration of the landfill’s lifespan. Without local controls like property value guarantees and annual payments, Campbell said the landfill will reduce nearby residents’ quality of life for years to come.
“This is our home,” Campbell said. “These are our lives. This is our financial security, and it is in jeopardy right now.”
Campbell was one of several people protesting outside the Eau Claire County Government Center before the committee’s in-person meeting Wednesday. People held up signs with messages such as “Protect our property,” “Treat us fairly!” and “Landfill: Be fair.”
Campbell also mentioned negotiating in good faith, which she does not think GFL nor other landfill operators have done.
“We really believe that we’ve been compromised for 25 years by this landfill,” Campbell said. “We feel that the landfill operator has dismissed our concerns, overlooked us and not addressed or tried to mitigate some of the problems that we face daily … The Seven Mile Creek Neighborhood Association has been on the short end of the stick.”
As she concluded her comments, Campbell asked that the committee “please stand for the people of our association. Our fate is in your hands.”