At a joint meeting of the Second and Fifth Wards on June 9, about 20 residents provided ideas on how $1.26 million held in a City reserve fund might be used to mitigate the adverse impacts of the waste transfer station at 1711 Church St.

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

This has been going on for more than 30 years, at least since the City approved the transfer station in 1983 and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency permitted it in 1984. The transfer station is now owned by Advanced Disposal Services Solid Waste Midwest, LLC (ADS).

Over the years, neighbors and others have complained about the noise, the smell, the traffic, garbage blowing around, rodents, possible damage to foundations due to the vibrations of heavy trucks, and potentially hazardous materials seeping into the soils of neighboring properties.

We are not sure why a transfer station was ever approved to operate in this residential setting. After the approvals were given, standards changed, but existing transfers stations were exempted from the new standards, which do not allow a transfer station to operate within 1,000 feet of the nearest residence. According to information provided by the City, there are 250 residences within 1,000 feet of the ADS transfer station. Because the area is home to primarily low-income minority households, some people have suggested that the continued operation of the transfer station fits the pattern of what is called “environmental racism.”

We understand that ADS has made some changes in an attempt to reduce the odors, to pick up garbage that has been blown around the neighborhood, to reduce the noise at early hours of the morning, and to mitigate other adverse impacts. But a larger question remains: Why does this transfer station continue to operate in a residential setting?

At this point the City has collected $1,263,247 as transfer station fees, which is sitting in a reserve fund, and the City anticipates it will collect about $100,000 per year in “host” fees starting in 2018. One issue is how that money will be spent.

At the June 9 ward meeting, the Environmental Justice Subcommittee of the Evanston Environmental Board recommended that the money be used to support the local residents. 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 think these recommendations make sense, and residents at the ward meeting seemed to support them.  At this point we do not know what the data will show. If an environmental study determines that runoff from the transfer station has contaminated neighboring properties, then the next steps can be determined based on that data. If foundations have been damaged or roads damaged because of vibrations due to heavy truck traffic, then the next steps can be taken based on that data. If the monitoring of air quality, noise, traffic, soil, water, etc., detects any ongoing health hazards or quality of living issues, then again next steps can be taken based on that data. We think funds should be used to gather this data and set up ongoing monitoring systems. Funds might also be held in reserve to use to fund the “next steps” decided upon based on the data collected. 

The aldermen are seeking to obtain the neighbors’ views and their voice should be heard. Perhaps some portion of the money should also be used to determine whether the neighbors have any legal remedy to challenge the continued operation of the transfer station.