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DEQ doesn't act on landfill permit

February 9, 2012
The Alpena News

ATLANTA - A meeting between the Montmorency-Oscoda-Alpena Solid Waste Management Authority and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regarding a groundwater discharge permit for the landfill's leachate didn't go as planned Monday. After presenting new data about the geological makeup of the property, the DEQ failed to act on the permit on the basis it considers the permit application incomplete.

Landfill Administrator Sandy Cunningham said samples of the leachate taken from the water treatment plant where it is disposed of showed it contained metal materials. Cunningham said the lagoons at the landfill are tested but not for these chemicals because it has never had a problem in the past. She was told by the treatment facility it would be unlikely that a northern Michigan landfill would produce the poisons. The DEQ examined the test results from the plant and determined the levels were not in line with state standards.

"We told them this hasn't been a concern for years and that the plant told us we didn't have to test for them any longer," Cunningham said. "They used a sample from the plant and found the high levels. We are not responsible for their testing, we are responsible for ours. We want them to look at our data, from here at the landfill."

The DEQ also expressed concern about the amount of clay underground, which would help navigate the leachate to a nearby area of surface water. Cunningham said the land above and below the landfill has been studied for years and believes the landfill's engineers are right about the path of water and the structure underground.

It is estimated the landfill has spent $1.5-$2 million on studies, equipment, engineering fees and permit requests during the last several years trying to install the groundwater discharge system, which would save the landfill hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Alpena Commissioner Cam Habermehl said enough has been spent, and it needs to stop.

"I think the permit part of this was $150,000 to $200,000 alone and that is not considering the cost to have the cells or the forcemain system constructed," Habermehl said. "As far as I'm concerned the next step for us to take should be to stop and not pay anymore. At least by us paying to have the leachate hauled away we are helping local businesses. If we had known this was how it would turn out, we never would have built the whole package we did."

Cunningham said too much has been invested to not attempt to move forward. She said she is trying to set up another meeting, which will include state officials. Oscoda County Commissioner Joe Stone said he was shocked the permit was not granted and agrees more political pressure needs to be applied to the DEQ.

"I really was surprised we didn't get it. After everything we were told at the last board meeting I thought we had hit a homerun with the data and what was being expressed by our engineer and the DEQ people who were there," Stone said. "We need to get our state reps and senators involved, as well as the governor's office. I think the local DEQ personnel who know the landfill better than anybody should also be there. It is kind of hard to just give up when we have spent so much money."

Alpena Commissioner Lyle VanWormer said more details and answers should come out during the landfill meeting this morning. He said the board was confident the permit would finally be approved thinks it is important to find out what went wrong.

"We were told that we had all of our ducks in a row, and I think everyone on the board thought the same thing," VanWormer said. "We need to know why this happened and what went wrong. Sandy is going to do a time line, with the expenses and find out exactly what went wrong and we will attempt to find out whose fault this is. Until we can do that it is hard to say what we are going to do."

Cunningham said the permit was not denied but there was not enough factual data in the application. During previous meetings the DEQ has expressed concerns, but instructed the landfill what measures needed to be taken to get the permit awarded. Cunningham said the DEQ wasn't very receptive at the meeting in Lansing Monday.

"They showed minimal support, and that is why I'm asking others to become more involved," Cunningham said. "We have had so many experts involved and they know what is happening. Right now I think the best thing we can do is to get up off the ground, dust ourselves up, and continue to move forward. I'm still confident we can get the permit."

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5689.



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