At a joint meeting of the Second and Fifth Wards on June 9, about 20 residents expressed concerns about the continued operation of the Waste Transfer Station at 1711 Church St. They also provided input on how $1.2 million in transfer station fees that are held in a City reserve fund might be used to mitigate the impact of the transfer station on people who live and work nearby. The meeting was called by Aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward.

At the transfer station, garbage trucks bring in waste they have picked up at residences and businesses, and the waste is transferred to large semi-trailer trucks which then haul it to landfills. Michael Rice, the site manager of the transfer station, said an average of 75 trucks come and go from the site per day.

The facility began as a small family-owned garbage dump, and over time the operation grew and was converted to a waste transfer station. On Oct. 17, 1983, Evanston’s City Council approved the site to operate as a waste transfer station. On Feb. 27, 1984, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a permit to operate a waste transfer station at the site.  The transfer station is now owned by Advanced Disposal Services Solid Waste Midwest, LLC (ADS).

Over the years, neighbors have complained about the noise, the smell, the traffic, rodents, possible damage to foundations, and potentially hazardous materials seeping into the ground and onto their properties.

While air, soil, and water runoff in the area surrounding the transfer station have not been tested, the City said in a handout at the meeting that “research on similar facilities around the country and world indicate it is not uncommon to find hazardous waste, heavy metals, asbestos, and biological contamination including high levels of bacteria, fungal spores, and fecal bacteria.”

A permit would not be granted to operate this transfer station under today’s standards. For one thing, under today’s standards a transfer station may not be operated within 1,000 feet of the nearest residential facility. The transfer station is within 50 feet of the nearest residence; and there are 250 residences within 1,000 feet of the transfer station. Because the area is home to primarily low-income minority households, many people have said the continued operation of the transfer station is an example of environmental racism.

In 2012, the City of Evanston imposed a transfer station fee of $2.00 per ton on waste brought into the transfer station, and ADS’s predecessor filed a lawsuit challenging the fee. While the lawsuit was pending, the fees were paid and held in a reserve fund. Earlier this year the lawsuit was settled, allowing the City to retain the fees paid. Under the settlement, though, ADS will not be required to pay any fees until Jan. 1, 2018, at which time it will begin to pay a host fee of 75 cents per ton.

Martin Lyons, Assistant City Manager said $1,263,247 is sitting in the reserve fund, and the fees collected after Jan. 1, 2018, would be about $100,000 per year.

At City Council’s May 23 meeting, staff proposed putting $500,000 from the $1.26 million reserve fund into the City’s General Fund and using the balance for capital projects in the area, such as enhancing the newly opened Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, buying land to create a parking lot for Gibbs-Morrison, improving Mason Park’s athletic fields, and expanding Mason Park itself.

Ald. Holmes and Braithwaite expressed concern about discussing the use of the funds before obtaining input from people in the community who have been impacted by the transfer station. Ald. Don Wilson, 4th Ward, and Ald. Brian Miller, 9th Ward, opposed earmarking any portion of the funds for anything other than improvements in and around the directly affected areas.

Proposed Uses of the $1.26 Million

At the June 9 meeting, Rick Nelson, a member of the Environmental Justice Subcommittee of the Evanston Environmental Board, said the subcommittee recommended that the money be used to support the local residents.

Jeri Garl, a member of the subcommittee, said the subcommittee recommended that the air quality, odors, noise, traffic, and the health of residents in the area be monitored. The subcommittee also recommended that soils of neighboring properties be tested for contamination, and that the foundations of neighboring homes and other buildings be examined to determine if they have been damaged by vibrations due to heavy traffic.  

“We would like to see what harm and damage has been caused” by the transfer station, Ms. Garl said. The testing and monitoring would help quantify the impact and enable the funding of specific remedies  in the future to be supported by data.

There seemed to be support for the subcommittee’s recommendations.

Carlis Sutton, a neighboring property owner, said that when there are high winds, garbage blows all over, and the odor is bad. “The only thing I pray for is a Northwest wind,” he said. He said he wanted devices permanently placed at various locations to monitor odors.

Mr. Sutton also suggested that people who live within four blocks of the transfer station get a stake of the money, adding, “When I hear the money is ‘going into the General Fund, which would benefit the entire community,’ I’m reminded I live in the forgotten Fifth Ward.”

Ald. Braithwaite said, “I disagree with the term ‘the forgotten Fifth Ward.’” Ald. Holmes said, “We were the forgotten Fifth, but I think we’ve worked hard in the last 12 years to remind people we’re still here. We’re not the forgotten Fifth anymore.”

Ald. Holmes said they were thinking of doing things that would benefit the community in the immediate area, maybe within 1,000 feet. She suggested as potential ideas controlling rodents, monitoring air quality, and having the health department conduct inspections. 

One resident suggested that the City test the water to make sure it is safe. Another said she would like to see the funds benefit everyone in the Second and Fifth Wards.

Based on a show of hands, residents appeared to support resurfacing roads; monitoring for health and safety,  including monitoring air quality, odors, and water quality and  testing for soil contamination; monitoring truck traffic and usage;  and rodent control. There seemed to be less interest in improving lighting in the area, alley paving, and sidewalk repairs.

Ald. Braithwaite said there would be additional meetings to discuss how to use the money. Many people wanted assurances that they would be provided with a list of the proposed uses and have a chance to comment before the list was presented to City Council.  Ald. Braithwaite assured people they would have that opportunity.  

Neighbors’ Continuing Concerns

A new “Host Agreement” entered into between the City and ADS provides that ADS will maintain a telephone number to receive public inquiries and complaints, and that ADS will respond to the complaints within 24 hours, and that complaints will be investigated within a reasonable time. The agreement also expressly states it does not confer any rights or remedies on anyone except the City and ADS.

At the meeting, neighbors raised concerns about the noise made by heavy trucks before 5 a.m., the continuous running of diesel engines, and the smell. Several people also expressed concern about the improvements provided for in the Host Agreement, and whether they would expand the capacity of the transfer operation. 

Mr. Rice said he is always available and would try to make adjustments to operations within reason, even if they were not required. As an example, he said he has moved back the start time in an effort to address some concerns.

Steve Rooney, General Manager of transfer stations for ADS, said ADS was planning to take down the vacant building in the front of the property and make changes to improve traffic flow into and out of the site, but added ADS was not planning to increase capacity. Some people expressed concern, though, that improving traffic flow might do just that.

Mr. Rooney added, “Please don’t hesitate to contact us.”  He, too, said ADS would try to address concerns even if it was not required to do so under its permit or the Host Agreement.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...