By Rosemary Horvath
A Hayes Township resident recited claims against the Waste Management-owned and operated Northern Oaks Recycling and Disposal Facility less than two miles from his home.
In an emotional display May 21, Ray Elliott challenged Clare County Commissioners to do something about noxious odors he believes permeate the environment overnight and dissipate by late morning.
The facility is located at the end of Larch Road in Hayes Township.
“This is your town too,” Elliott pleaded, noting he has found no support from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, because “going to the state is like walking into a dead wall,” he said.
Elliott who lives at 483 N. Clare Ave. believes a “massive amount of gas is unleashed” every morning when the dump opens.
By the time a MDEQ official arrives at the facility to investigate his claim, it’s too late to detect any odor, Elliott said.
Commissioners have heard Elliott’s arguments twice before. Once in 2013 he and nine other residents, presumably from the area, claimed a threat to health and well-being that they had been dealing with for years, they said.
At that time, commissioners shared concern but said the facility is regulated and permitted by MDEQ and shutting it down was not within their authority although the county and Waste Management of Michigan have a development and operation agreement dated 1990 and amended 2005.
In the agreement, the county required WMM to maintain the existing woods or other screening acceptable to the county as a buffer area on the site which shall extend at least 300 feet inside the property line.
In 2010, WMM chose location for the gas-to-electricity facility in the far southwest corner of the landfill property, or approximately 250 feet from the property boundary, or 50 within a cleared area of the facility buffer strip, according to a letter written to the county at the time.
“Location of this proactive operation in this area of the property will not impact the existing tree screening, nor will it create any nuisance for our adjacent neighbors. The generating equipment will be contained within operational structures designed to control any noise from the engineers, and the engine exhaust is equipped with a sound dampening muffler,” wrote the district manager at that time.
At the meeting this month, Commissioner Leonard Strouse said he hasn’t detected any odors related to the facility but he has smelled a chemical odor that could be coming from a long way away.
Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt repeated his suggestion from last year to install a specialized sniffing device at or near the landfill for a long period of time.
Commissioner Jim Gelios reiterated the county board has no jurisdiction over regulating Northern Oaks. However, Commissioner Dale Majewski offered to contact MDEQ not as a commissioner but as a fire chief.
Contacted by phone, Terry Nichols, district manager for Northern Oaks, said the organization is “sensitive to the neighbors needs. We are continually working to improve the landfill.”
Waste Management has invested millions in odor control systems at its landfill sites, including the one in Hayes Township.
Nichols said “the gas collection system captures landfill gas so gas does not escape. It is very efficient.”
Nichols has met with Elliott several times and is aware his concern is about the methane gas. Nichols disputed any opening and closing of the system as Elliott suggests.
The system runs 24/7, Nichols explained. “We use methane gas to power a landfill gas energy plan to produce electricity we sell back to the grid. The only difference the system would make is it makes capturing gas better and not worse.”
Tom Horton, Midwest-Vice President of Public Affairs at Waste Management, headquartered in Wixom, described the Northern Oaks facility as “a complex design where every drop of water that falls on the facility is regulated.”
Horton went on to say today’s regional landfill facilities are not like catch-all dumps and landfills of yesterday year. “Ours is a highly regulated industry. Every step is regulated at the federal and state level.”
Waste Management has a vested interest in maintaining environmental requirements, Horton added. When the site closes, Waste Management has the monitoring responsibility for another 30 years, he said.
Horton referred additional questions to Gary Schwerin, MDEQ environmental engineer. Schwerin could not be reached.
Horton added that a facility “cannot be a nuisance in a community.” As for odors at the Northern Oaks location, the company spokesman said “we have not been able to detect odors. Are we being a good steward? Many people have commented on our behalf.”