In February, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz introduced Fifth and Second ward residents to Ashley McIlwee as the City’s point person to monitor complaints about odors and other problems arising from the Veolia solid waste transfer station on Church Street. At that time, resident Carliss Sutton told her, “Wait until July.”
As predicted, the heat and humidity of July ripened the smell from the transfer station, prompting complaints about the smell, but complaint calls to 311, the City’s non-emergency number, were registered as early as May. The City reports that it received 54 complaints between mid-May and the end of July, and seven complaints about noise since December.
On July 14, the City imposed a fine on Veolia for “violating … the City code, due to the fact that an unwholesome odor of rotten garbage was emanating from the [transfer station] on June 14, and thereby befouling the neighborhood.”
Veolia has appealed, but residents are pushing for the City to take stronger measures against the company, which they say emits foul odors and possibly chemical particulates into the air.
No resident has spoken publicly in favor of Veolia. Some residents have said they wish Veolia would relocate from its Church Street location or even from Evanston altogether. Others have pushed for greater control of the site in terms of noise, odor and pests.
Veolia’s Evanston solid waste transfer facility is located on both sides of Church Street just east of Darrow Avenue, with the transfer station itself on the north side. A waste station has been in that location since 1984, said Melanie Williams of the regional public relations department of Veolia. Locally owned Active Service Corporation gave way to Browning-Ferris, and then to Onyx, which was purchased several years ago by Veolia Environmental Services North America, a subsidiary of Veolia Environmental Services (VES).
According to its website, “VES is the world’s largest waste services company, with over 100,000 employees in 42 countries generating revenues of $13.0 billion in 2009.”
Evanston resident Ryan Strong directs the daily operations of the transfer station, which handles about 500 tons of solid waste per day. Garbage trucks that collect residential or commercial refuse dump their loads onto the floor of the transfer station, a three-sided metal structure with a concrete floor and a large door that is open almost continually during hours of operation. A loader then pushes the waste over a wall and into a larger tractor-trailer, which then transports the load to a Veolia-owned landfill.
Across the street Veolia maintains a lot that is used for turn-arounds for trucks, temporary storage of off-load garbage carts and gasoline pumps for Veolia’s fleet.
The hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and trucks are allowed in the facility between 6:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. The company says it cleans the transfer-station floor before closing for the day and also cleans the sidewalks on Church Street and on Darrow Avenue south of Church Street.
Veolia addresses the smell in two different ways, Ms. Williams told the RoundTable. Deodorizing crystals spread on the ground release a scent (cherry, at present, soon to be changed to citrus) when trucks roll over them. These crystals are spread daily, she said, and offered individually to each truck driver as well.
Another chemical, also applied daily, is sprayed through a “misting system,” Ms. Williams said. This mist is designed to neutralize the odor; it does not have a scent, she added. A secondary system will be installed in the next few weeks, she added.
In addition to chemicals, Ms. Williams said, the company uses filters. Last winter charcoal filters that fit over the transfer facility were installed. Fans blow air toward the ceiling, where it first passes through paper filters and then through the charcoal filters.
Despite Veolia’s efforts to control the smell, residents still complain about the odor. They also say they are concerned about the transfers of solid waste in their neighborhood and also about what might be transferred from the station into the neighborhood: noise, rodents, noxious vapors and chemical particulates.
At the Aug. 8 City Council meeting, several residents gave voice to specific concerns about the transfer station.
Ike Dickson, who said she lives about five blocks from the transfer station, said the smell is “sickening. … I am one of the people who would like to see Veolia go. They are not bringing anything good to the City.”
Jacqui Davis, who said she lives on Church Street a few blocks west of the transfer station, said, “Trucks shatter my walls, shake my mirror, shatter my windows – everything shakes.” Another resident reported similarly that his “whole house shakes” when the trucks go over certain parts of Church Street.
Muffy McAuley, a property manager and real estate developer in the area, said, “My main point is that economic development at Church and Dodge is dead in the water as long as Veolia is there. If we’re ever going to change the dynamic, we have to get rid of Veolia.”
Although Veolia’s activities are governed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), the City has tried to exert some control. Last December the City imposed a fee of $2 for every ton of waste brought into the station. In addition, the City Council on Aug. 8 authorized Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl to post comments to the IEPA regarding Veolia’s proposed modifications of the transfer station. Among the modifications sought, said Ms. Williams, are the demolition of a long-unused building, a widening of the north gateway and adding landscaping to the rear of the property.
The City has indicated that some aspects of the proposed modifications may violate the City’s zoning code.
On Aug. 8, the City Council approved an ordinance imposing the same $2-per-ton fee. The new ordinance, however, was supported by 53 findings, including that the City has received complaints from residents regarding odor, litter, speeding trucks and noise, that the existence of “rats and other vermin” is attributable to the operations of the transfer station and that the $2 per ton fee will “at least partially offset, but not come close to recapturing, the enormous financial burdens imposed on the City by the operation [of the transfer station].”
Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar told the City Council members at the Aug. 8 meeting that Veolia was planning to sue the City. Ms. Williams told the RoundTable that the tonnage fee, the fine levied last month and the allegations that at least one of Veolia’s proposed modifications violates the City’s zoning code would be subjects of the lawsuit. Veolia terms that proposal – a “tarping” station for truck drivers who roll tarps over their loads – a “safety requirement,” she said.
While the attorneys are suiting up for a battle, Ms. Williams says she is hoping to smooth things out with the neighbors. She says she is in frequent contact with both Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes and Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite. Ald. Holmes said, “I want Veolia gone, but while they’re here, I want them to be the best neighbor possible.”
Ms. Williams said, “We want to be a good neighbor to the community. We hope we will be able to work with the City and the neighbors.” Many residents use the City’s 311 number to register complaints about Veolia. Ms. Williams also offered this number: 630-762-7725.