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The City has put out a survey asking input from residents and those who work in Evanston about how to spend the roughly $1.2 million from the settlement of a lawsuit between the City and Advanced Disposal Services Solid Waste Midwest, LLC (ADS), the company that now operates the waste transfer station at Church Street and Darrow Avenue.

We encourage residents, especially those who have been impacted by the transfer station, to complete the survey, which is available online at cityofevanston.org and at community centers. 

The transfer station has been in place for more than 30 years, growing from a family-owned business that handled mostly Evanston-generated refuse to the present transfer station used by more than 75 large garbage trucks each weekday. In 1983, the City approved the transfer station, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency permitted it in 1984. After these approvals were given, standards changed, banning a transfer station from operating within 1,000 feet of the nearest residence, but existing transfer stations were exempted from the new standards. According to information provided by the City, there are 250 residences within 1,000 feet of the ADS transfer station, the nearest one being a mere 50 feet away.

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. 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.

The June 16 edition of the RoundTable carried a story about a neighborhood meeting about the use of the $1.2 million and an editorial that stated in part, “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 from heavy traffic. 

“We think these recommendations make sense, and residents … seem 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.”

That editorial also suggested that some portion of the money be used to determine whether the neighbors have any legal remedy to challenge the continued operation of the transfer station. 

We wrote that editorial because City staff had recommended putting about half the money into the City’s General Fund (its main operating fund) and using the balance for capital projects in the area, such as enhancing the 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, rather than treating the funds as neighborhood impact fees. 

We think the neighbors – and the neighborhood – around the transfer station have unjustly endured the impacts of the transfer station. We deplore that the City is allowing it to continue by having signed a host agreement. Under the host agreement, the City will collect an estimated $100,000 annually. This, too, should go to mitigating the impact of the transfer station.

The City is seeking larger input about the use of funds that so clearly should mitigate impact on the neighborhood surrounding the transfer station.

The survey will gather information about whether a respondent has been impacted by the transfer station and how close the respondent lives to the transfer station. Some of the questions ask for the respondent’s priorities on how to spend the $1.2 million. It asks respondents to identify their concerns about the transfer station and to give their opinion about several options to assess and monitor the impacts of the transfer station, about several options to address the impact of the transfer station, and about several options for neighborhood improvement projects.

Because the fund is limited, gathering input on priorities is important. We think, though, that the priorities of people living near the transfer station should be given the greatest weight. Also, every effort should be made to ensure that people who live near the transfer station have access to the survey.