- Illinois is escalating a fight with a Winnebago County landfill owned by a Waste Connections subsidiary. In an updated complaint filed Dec. 19 with a state circuit court, the attorney general's office has outlined 10 counts of alleged air pollution violations. The state argues the landfill allowed hazardous hydrogen sulfide and other pollutants to escape, at the expense of nearby communities.
- The Rockford office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) "received over 240 complaints from local residents" regarding odors from the landfill, the lawsuit states. Residents say those odors were accompanied by health effects, including "nausea, burning throats, and headaches." The plaintiffs call for a $50,000 penalty per violation, along with "an additional penalty" of $10,000 "for each day of violation."
- A day after the updated complaint was filed, landfill manager Lacy Ballard told WREX that $2 million had already been spent to improve gas collection systems. He said a new odor neutralizing system would also be installed onsite, including "about 4,000 linear feet of piping."
When the Winnebago landfill was operated by Rock River Environmental Sources, IEPA repeatedly issued violation notices for odors and associated problems. Waste Connections acquired the site in 2015, later taking steps to mitigate odors, including installing gas collections wells and tightening practices for leachate and other discharge.
But the problems have persisted. The state's previous attorney general initially pursued fines in 2017. This escalated in 2019 after IEPA issued another violation notice in June over environmental hazards, and slapped the landfill again with fines in October.
Winnebago County has also grown frustrated with the landfill. While the county has minimal control over the site, the county board is targeting litter from the trucks bound for the landfill. In late November, the board's operations and administrative committee voted to advance an ordinance increasing inspection fees and requirements. The ordinance would impose a $100 inspection fee, along with a $1,000 fine for littering trucks weighing over 16,000 pounds.
Board members and community residents have expressed anger in heated public meetings, with some arguing the state has not done enough to address their concerns about odors and environmental hazards. Frank Haney, the board chairman, previously asked the state to "take all necessary steps" to bring the landfill into compliance with IEPA regulations. Residents have also expressed concerns about using more chemicals to address odor problems, as the company has said it will do.
The Dec. 19 updated complaint marks increasing scrutiny from Attorney General Kwame Raoul's office. The 47-page document names both the Winnebago Landfill Company LLC and Winnebago Reclamation Service, Inc. as defendants. In addition to other environmental violations, the lawsuit targets the landfill over tracking mud and soil onto public highways, and argues the company has never fully solved its ongoing problems.
"To the date of filing this Amended Complaint, the Defendants have failed to take action to eliminate the emission of landfill gas from the Landfill and the spread of landfill gas odors to the communities in the vicinity of the Landfill," the complaint asserts.
Efforts to reach Waste Connections by publishing time were unsuccessful, but the company has repeatedly asserted that its landfill is in compliance with environmental regulations. Plaintiffs and defendants are next expected in court on Jan. 23 for a hearing.