Waste Management protestors storm out of BOC meeting

Erich T. Doerr | Review Correspondent

The Clare County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday began with a public comment section and immediately things became very heated as residents from the southern side of Harrison continued to voice concerns over a possible odor they say is from the Waste Management Northern Oaks Recycling and Disposal Facility.

Leading the group of concerned citizens was Ray Elliott, a resident who had also raised his concerns at a previous meeting. Elliott threatened to move if nothing is done to finally end the problem.

“I wanted to live there and die there,” Elliott said, restating he may leave due to health concerns. “I can show you my cancer… People are still getting sick.”

Elliott and his neighbors said the smell has been especially bad of late saying it was noticeable for the next week after his first speech to the board. They added while it briefly cleared up for a period of about 10 days it has since returned and has been noticed as early as 9 p.m. compared to its normal 2:30 a.m. timing.

“It eats at your senses,” Elliott said of the odor. “It’s in our homes.”

Elliott said that he has continued to complain to the EPA on the issue and after smelling the 2:30 a.m. odor has gotten up in the middle of the night and walked over a mile to find its source. He said these walks lead him to the landfill where he said the odor is coming from one of the piles inside.

“We’ve seen stuff coming out of the hill,” Elliott said, saying later it is the same location in the landfill each time.

What exactly is causing the odor is unknown. A discussion at a previous meeting with members of the Department of Environmental Quality and Waste Management mentioned one possibility could be hydrogen sulfide (H2S), possibly produced by drywall or oil field wastes, but Elliott and the homeowners disputed this.

“I know what methane and H2S smell like,” Elliott said. “There is something else in it.”

Fred Sawyers is WM’s district manager for the area including the Northern Oaks facility and while he did not attend Wednesday’s meeting copies of an email he sent the county on Monday regarding an odor complaint last Friday were passed out. The complaint came to Sawyers from DEQ official Kathy Brewer who reported having it on her voice mail at 7:51 a.m. The email materials said that Brewer sent the message to Sawyers at 12:01 p.m. on Friday.

“As started on Friday, according to facility staff, the conditions at the site (on) Friday morning were similar to those (of) recent months,” Sawyers said in the email. “There was no off-site odor related to the landfill, and only very slight odor directly at the waste boundary. I confirmed this situation again this morning (at 6:30 a.m.).”

Sawyers added in the email on the possible Friday odor that there was very little wind in the area until around 7:30 a.m. before it continued over the course of the day.

“We do not open the working area until approximately 7 a.m. and no significant trash odors were observed on Friday or today,” Sawyers said in the email. “Additionally I checked our waste records to confirm that no waste loads were accepted on Friday morning which may have had an odor concern.”

The public comment discussion ended dramatically when one of Elliott’s associates who had arrived late stormed out angry at how the board was handling the issue. Elliott and the others soon followed in a similar manner after the board noted due to their financial requirements and the legal nature of the case they cannot as a county install gas sniffers or take a similar action on the issue.

“We don’t have the money or the mechanism to do it,” board chairperson Donald David said, noting it would be against the law to spend tax payer dollars on something like that.

After the citizens had left the Clare County board continued to discuss the issue during its Committee of the Whole meeting later on Wednesday. According to County Administrator Tracy Byard the committee decided to check in Sawyers for the possibility of more meetings about the issue with Waste Management itself.

“Fred is the one that actually heading up those community meetings,” Byard said.

Before reaching that decision the board previously discussed the possibility of trying to get Elliott, members of Waste Management and the DEQ all together for a single meeting.

Wherever the odor is coming from one southern Harrison industry that very likely is not the cause is Billsby Lumber, a sawmill located in the area since 1972 and very close to the landfill. According to a secretary at Billsby the company specializes in producing ‘green lumber’ and as such uses no chemicals in its production.

She added the company also does not use any dryers for its wood, it buys logs brought in from wooded areas and cuts them to order. She said virtually all of the company’s wood is sold to wholesale manufacturing companies. The operations of the sawmill also do not line up with the odor, she said it is closed at night and work doesn’t begin until 6:30 a.m.