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The station handles about 500 tons of solid waste per day: Garbage trucks filled with refuse – some of which is Evanston-generated – dump their cargo onto a floor within the facility, from which the garbage is then swept into other waiting trucks that carry the garbage to larger processing facilities.
For several years neighbors had expressed concerns about environmental problems apparently created by the facility – odor, rodents, noise and congestion; last year these previously sporadic complaints coalesced. Neighbors put pressure on the City and on Veolia to take action: Their immediate goals were for Veolia to revamp the transfer station to have the transfers take place wholly within a covered facility. Ultimately, they say, they would like to see Veolia leave the neighborhood altogether. For its part, the City appointed two point-persons to monitor complaints and environmental problems there and increased the per-ton fee it charges Veolia.
Veolia, meanwhile, appears to be staying put. Last summer the company applied to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for permission to modify the facility. The plans included demolishing a long-unused building, widening the north gateway, replacing the single door that spans the entire transfer facility with four individual doors and adding landscaping to the rear of the property.
The City, however, said some of the proposed modifications may conflict with the City’s zoning code and, in a letter sent on Aug. 19 to Sallie Flynn of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl asserted the City’s zoning power over proposed modifications to the transfer station. The letter also stated, “Residents in the neighborhood have complained time and again about traffic, noise and odor problems caused by the facility. … When a neighborhood’s quality of life is so adversely affected that citizens cannot garden or children cannot play outside due to the overwhelming smell and noise generated by the station, that is a powerful indictment against Veolia’s attempt to relax the permit requirements.”
Apparently new doors on the operating part of the facility passed EPA muster. A City committee has given Veolia preliminary approval from the City to replace the single door on its facility with four smaller ones.
An Open- or Closed-Door Policy?
Melanie Williams, regional spokesperson for Veolia, said replacing the door is something “the neighbors had asked for. We want the neighbors to know they have been heard.” The new doors should be up “within the next couple of months,” she said, depending on weather and other conditions.
How many of the four new doors will be open at one time is unclear, Ms. Williams said. “We’ll try to keep the doors closed whenever we can; it depends on what is happening at the facility. … It [knowing when and how many doors would be open] is going to be a process.”
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the door replacement is “something that has been discussed for a long time. It’s a good thing to do for the community, as long as the facility is still here.”
Alderman Delores Holmes, in whose Fifth Ward the operational part of the transfer facility lies, told the RoundTable the new set of garage doors “is supposed to mask the smell better, because the [unused] doors will be closed. … I just think [Veolia] ought to do anything they can to be a good neighbor as long as they’re in the area.” She added that the new doors did nothing to change her position that Veolia should leave. “I’ve been real clear. [Their presence] is an environmental injustice that has happened to the community for a long time.”
Kristin White, one of the neighbors who have actively opposed having the transfer station there, appeared to agree with Ald. Holmes: “Our feeling in the short term is that anything that improves the quality of life is [welcome]. Our long-term opinion is that [Veolia is] not properly sited and that it needs] to go.” She said there are generally fewer complaints about the smell in the colder months, but the problem remains year-round.
Ms. White said Veolia has added new landscaping to the railroad berm that abuts its property, and “they have erected new big red ‘No Trespassing’ signs that face Church Street Village [a residential development immediately to the east of the facility].” The signs, she said “are a bit aggressive.”
Ms. Williams said the landscaping included newly planted trees, and the signs were put up both to protect the trees and to ensure privacy. “People have been up there on the berm, and, if someone gets hurt, it’s a liability for us. People have been up here videotaping our operations.” She said Veolia hopes the trees will suffice: “We don’t want to have to put up a fence.”
Veolia has also filed a lawsuit against the City, possibly for the increase in tonnage fees. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable the City had received a copy of the filings. “We’re still studying the suit,” he said, adding that the City would likely have a response “in the early part of February.”