Advanced Disposal transfer station on Church Street

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A long simmering dispute over the waste transfer station on Church Street appeared close to settlement on Jan. 25. The 359-page City Council packet, usually released the Friday before a Monday meeting, contained a detailed settlement agreement and staff memo detailing the situation.

The transfer station, on both sides of Church Street just west of Darrow Avenue, has long been a sore point with neighbors, who say it is the source of foul odors, heavy truck traffic, noise and rodents. Formerly owned by Veolia, it is now owned by Advanced Disposal.

When the matter came before the Administration and Public Works Committee, it became apparent that no one on City Council knew anything about the proposed settlement before Friday’s packet release at the earliest. The Committee voted to hold the matter until residents and the Second and Fifth ward aldermen had an opportunity to review and provide input into the negotiated terms.

“There are lots of residents watching now” on video, said Alderman Delores Holmes, whose Fifth Ward includes many residents affected by the site. “Several groups have been working on this for several years, and we did not have enough time to get their input.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, whose Second Ward includes the transfer station, told the RoundTable, “I am really disappointed that the document [the proposed settlement agreement] was released to the public without the City Council’s approval” and without City Council input. “It’s not fair to the residents,” he said.

The transfer station receives garbage from standard garbage trucks, then transfers the garbage to semi-trailer trucks to be carted to landfills outside of town. Organized groups of residents have in the past sought improvements and have at times called for the transfer station to be shut down completely.

In part in response to resident protests, the City passed an ordinance that imposed a fee of $2 per ton fee on waste dumped at the transfer station. In December 2011, according to the staff memo, Veolia sued the City over new City ordinance. It is that lawsuit that City staff proposed to settle.

Under the proposed settlement, the City would keep all the money collected under the transfer tax ordinance, more than $1.2 million. Council would repeal the ordinance immediately, then replace it with a “Hosting Agreement” under which Advanced Disposal would pay $0.75 per ton, beginning January 2017.

The Host Community Agreement details the relationship between the site and the community into the future, including such provisions as landscaping, complaint investigation, covering trucks with tarps before they exit, City inspections, and entranceway improvements. This Host Community Agreement, like the settlement agreement of which it is a part, had no community or Council input and was negotiated entirely by staff.

The staff memo, written by Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar, summarized the settlement as follows. “[W]hile the litigation was pending… the City committed Advanced to pay the WTS [waste transfer service] fee, albeit under protest…. The City prudently sequestered these fees while the litigation remained pending. The City’s Law Department effectively litigated the defense of this case in-house, thereby avoiding hundreds of thousands in outside legal fees to the City…. The recommended Host Community Agreement will substantially improve the City’s relationship with Advanced and still permit the City to collect a $0.75 per ton host fee from Advanced for waste transferred through the WTS. This host fee will take effect on January 1, 2017.”

Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, criticized the decision to negotiate a settlement and hosting agreement without Council input. “I find it extremely troubling that the terms of the settlement agreement were decided without City Council input or approval,” he told the RoundTable. “There are provisions of the Illinois Open Meetings Act that allow for private discussion of settlement terms among the members of the City Council to ensure the best possible outcome for the City. That process wasn’t followed. …”

The documents now public, the settlement agreement and hosting agreement now head out into the community for analysis, input, and commentary. The staff memo and related documents can be found at cityofevanston.org as part of the City Council packet for the Jan. 25 meeting, pages 90 through 143.