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The film version of the dispute between Veolia Environmental Services and Evanston residents made its debut on June 7, and all who attended except the two representatives of Veolia appeared to enjoy the show. “Dump the Dump,” was screened at Strange Lofts, just over the railroad berm from the controversial transfer station.
Most Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Down
Cindy Levitt of Evanston Neighbors United, which sponsored the screening, said the documentary had “a good reception.”
Northwestern Univeristy seniors Emma Carlin and Elizabeth Miller made “Dump the Dump,” a documentary of the neighbors’ efforts to fight the Veolia waste transfer station at 1711 Church St.
The two students interviewed neighbors and made a documentary about their efforts to make the transfer
station in Evanston a City-wide concern and gain support for their push to move it away from a populated area.
In the film, neighbors describe their health, safety and quality-of-life concerns about living so close to the transfer station.
The transfer station is located approximately 40 feet from Mason Park, which has about 68,000 visitors annually. It is about 500 feet from Evanston Township High School, which has a student population of around 3,000.
The Veolia representatives apparently did not like what they saw. Melanie Williams, regional spokesperson for Veolia, attended the film, and the next day Veolia released a statement that said the documentary was “seemingly designed to force out a local business with deep roots in the Evanston community. … The ‘documentary’ focuses only on one side of an ongoing, contentious issue without any regard for Veolia’s opinions or facts regarding its … operation of the waste transfer station.
The film “heavily features neighbors who willingly bought property next to the station and … unsurprisingly fails to address Veolia’s efforts to work with local officials to resolve the City’s issues.” The statement also mentions three proposals rejected by the City: negotiating a host agreement, revamping the entrance to the facility and demolishing some buildings on the property “to improve aesthetics.”
The statement continues, “The fact remains that Veolia’s Evanston transfer
station is in full compliance with all state and federal laws. … Veolia’s goal is
to remain an important part of the Evanston community and a good corporate citizen. …”
Ms. Levitt said she considered Veolia’s statement “really a slap in the face.”
The Transfer Station
The station collects about 400 tons of garbage per day, all of which is dumped on the floor of the station then swept or scooted into larger trucks for transfer to a processing site outside of Evanston. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), not the City of Evanston, has the authority to monitor the facility. Last year, however, the City hired a person to keep track of complaints against Veolia (many are made through the 311 call center) and imposed a $2 fee on each ton of waste collected at the site.
The station itself is on the north side of Church Street, in the City’s Fifth Ward. Veolia also owns property directly across Church Street, which it uses mainly for storage; that property is in the City’s Second Ward. Aldermen of both wards have been working to address neighbor concerns with Veolia.
Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes has played a dual role in some negotiations, trying to ameliorate things in the short term but not giving up on her long-term vision of seeing the transfer station closed. She has repeatedly said that she would like to see Veolia relocated, “but while they’re here, they should be a good neighbor.”
Ms. Williams told the RoundTable she felt that many residents do not acknowledge what Veolia has done to be a good neighbor: The company has replaced the single wide door on the station with four smaller doors, which remain closed during the actual waste transfer, acting as a “visual screen.”
Veolia baits for rats and other pests on a monthly basis, although its permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency requires only quarterly baiting, she said. The floor is cleaned each evening and a chemical spray is used regularly to mask the odor, she said. And, although under the IEPA permit the transfer station may operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Ms. Williams said the hours of operation are 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Still, neighbors have complained about increased pests in the area, trucks idling on Church Street waiting for the facility to open and a stench that keeps them inside.
While residents have complained about the transfer station for years, during the past 12 to 15 months the voices have become stronger and more unified.
As neighbors and other concerned residents were consolidating their concerns and meeting with City officials last summer, students in the Brady Scholars program at Northwestern University took an interest as well.
The students wrote a white paper on solid waste and its impact on residential and other communities. Brady Scholars students invited other Northwestern students to become involved, prompting Ms. Carlin and Ms. Miller to create their documentary.
Evanston Neighbors United, which sponsored the screening, sees the waste transfer station as its first issue for community education and action.
The area surrounding it is becoming increasingly residential, and residents continue to complain about odors, traffic, noise, pests and pollution they attribute to the transfer station.
The goal of the Evanston Neighbors United is to have Veolia relocate the facility either out of Evanston altogether or to a non-residential area with a 1,000-foot buffer, as recommended by IEPA best practices.
The film, said Ms. Levitt, will help in the efforts of Evanston Neighbors United to educate the community about the transfer station and solicit additional support for their cause.
Veolia has sued the City over the tonnage fee and the neighbors are pushing for the company to relocate from Evanston. Even so, Ms. Williams told the RoundTable she believes a “solution is possible.”