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Neighbors of DeKalb landfill weigh in on effects of facility's expansion

Projected truck traffic overstated, Waste Management official says

CORTLAND – Barbara Moore, 60, has lived in the home her parents built on Somonauk Road just south of Cortland since she was 7 years old.

Living less than a mile away from a landfill didn’t always bother her, but the odor has gotten stronger in recent years, she said.

“When it really got bad was when it started expanding and getting bigger,” Moore said. “Depends on your wind, how your wind is gonna blow. That’s when you really get the raunchy smell.”

In 2010, the DeKalb County Board voted to allow Waste Management to take in 500,000 tons of waste annually at the 18370 Somonauk Road landfill, meaning $4.76 per ton for the county, which shakes out to just shy of $200,000 per month.

Some Cortland residents reported that the area near the landfill seemed to smell worse since Waste Management began accepting more trash.

Moore said this still is the case for her family’s home.

She said her 85-year-old mother likes to sit outside on the back porch, but some days she has to come back in because of the smell. The windows at the family home stay closed year-round.

“It’s like a sewer, like a rotten sewer,” Moore said. “Like something rotten, dying.”

Roxie Isham, 50, Moore’s sister, added that their father used to work at the landfill. Now, she said, the smell hits her when she is driving on Somonauk Road.

“Not every day, but a lot of the time it stinks,” Isham said. “It stinks like a dead animal.”

The landfill’s expansion has provided revenue in the form of “tipping fees” – a charge for waste haulers to dump their trash. The extra funds are being used to finance the expansion of the DeKalb County Jail, which has had problems with overcrowding for decades. Substantial completion of the $35 million jail expansion project is expected in January.

In May, the board agreed to allow Waste Management to accept an additional 200,000 tons of waste a year, but not the smelly kind.

This waste will be nonhazardous special waste – mainly soil from construction projects in nearby counties.

DeKalb County officials said this would not increase the size of the landfill, and that the density of the material would compact existing trash and potentially increase the landfill’s lifespan.

Solid waste still is capped at 500,000 tons a year.

Mike Wiersema, senior district manager for Waste Management, said the landfill brought in about 490,000 tons of solid waste last year. An average of 1,800 to 1,900 tons come in each day, he said.

Wiersema said the landfill has a projected 40 years of life left, but that would depend on factors such as incoming volume and how many pounds per cubic yard can be compacted into existing airspace.

Wiersema said Waste Management uses machinery to compact the trash, and gravity pushes it down over time, as well.

The additional special waste material also can work to do this, especially as the heavier dirt intermingles with solid waste below in the same space, he said.

“That soil is so much more dense than the garbage that you and I throw away,” he said. “If you ever had a garbage can in your kitchen, and you push down on it as hard as you can because you don’t want to take the trash out just yet, but then it kinda springs back up on you, it’s the same concept.”

Wiersema said the 200,000 tons of special waste that was approved would equate to an extra 4.6 trucks an hour; however, he expects more like two to three extra trucks an hour will be the effect.

He added that the traffic study done before the landfill expanded predicted that 177 trucks would come in each day, but the reality has been about 130.

“We’re more than well-equipped to manage the volume that we have with the equipment we have on-site,” Wiersema said.

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