Facing the prospect of losing a court battle to Advanced Disposal, formerly Veolia, Evanston City Council voted to settle a lawsuit by immediately repealing its $2-per-ton fee on waste transferred through the Church Street waste transfer station and replacing it with a $0.75 per ton fee that takes effect in January 2018.
A Host Community Agreement, negotiated by City staff, will include a tarping station which will cover waste as trucks leave the station, site entrance improvements, a complaint hotline promising return calls within 24 hours, landscaping, and other concessions. Advanced Disposal will also dismiss the lawsuit it filed against the City seeking damages for the allegedly improper ordinance that instituted the $2-per-ton fee.
Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said that while the City has been aggressively litigating the lawsuit filed by Advance Disposal, a Chancery Court judge recently determined motion practice was at an end. “We are now at a point where the Court is pushing either this case is going to trial or this is going to settle,” said Mr. Farrar.
The City has been issuing citations against ADS, resulting in “very mixed results” in Cook County’s Skokie Courthouse, he said. The Skokie citations have “spilled over into” the Chancery Court downtown, he added.
The City cannot force the transfer station out of Evanston, according to Mr. Farrar, because the Illinois EPA issued its license. Evanston has no jurisdiction over such licenses even though current EPA standards would not allow a transfer station where the Church Street facility now sits. “It is grandfathered in,” said Mr. Farrar.
The proposed settlement changed over the two weeks between first reading, when the matter was held by Council, and Feb. 22. Responding to criticism from the public, City staff added an escalator to the fee. “I went back and had a conversation with the attorney for Advance Disposal, said Mr. Farrar.
Advanced agreed to an increase from $0.75 to $1.00 per ton over 20 years. “Advanced tentatively agreed but they insisted the 75 cents starts in January 2018,” he added. The City will collect nothing from Advanced between the effective date of the repeal of current ordinances, likely between March 15, 2016, and January 2018.
“I feel this is the best of a potentially bad situation,” said Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward. “We could lose this lawsuit,” under which circumstance the City would collect no additional fees and likely have to return the approximately $1.2 million collected since the $2 fee went into effect. Under the settlement, Evanston keeps those funds.
“Obviously this is a very difficult position for us to be in as a City,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. “We are a defendant in a lawsuit… We’re trying to do the best we can… trying to get the best deal we can get.” It’s not the best deal for the City, he acknowledged, and not what the City really wants. But the City is stuck with decisions made in the 1980s, and the transfer station must remain under current Illinois law, he said.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, whose 2nd Ward includes the transfer station site, said, “One concern I’ve heard from residents is the impact fees.” If more than 35,000 tons per quarter go through the station, he said, the tippage fee should be increased, “maybe return it to the $2-per-ton” level.
Council appeared unanimously disappointed with the circumstance, but passed the settlement agreement and the Host Community Agreement by a 9-0 vote. The ordinance repealing the $2-per-ton fee was introduced, also unanimously.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, called for a community meeting to discuss the developments.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz warned against setting expectations too high, saying the community could have no impact on the settlement itself – that matter has already been resolved.
“Sometimes all people want is to be heard,” said Ald. Holmes.