Stop Landfill Development in Richfield
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Dear Governor Walker,
As the overseer of the DNR, we are urging you to stop the following project based on serious public safety concerns.
There is a proposed clean-fill landfill, (to be operated by Scenic Pit LLC), that is located in an established residential area in the Village of Richfield , Washington County, at 609 Scenic Road. This site is a former gravel quarry that was mined until the early 1970's, but is now surrounded by a highly residential community. It is nestled in the middle of three subdivisions, with 77 properties within 1200 feet of this site. There are nearly nine hundred properties and an elementary school within a one mile radius, and many more subdivisions, homes, and schools expanding beyond that. Rather than opening this landfill through the landfill siting process, the owner's plan is to operate this site under an exemption granted in NR 500.08(2)(a).
NR 500.08(2) Other facilities. The following facilities shall be established in conformance with the locational requirements of s. NR 504.04 (3) (c) and (4) (a) to (f) and shall be operated and maintained in a nuisance-free and aesthetic manner but are exempt from licensing and the requirements of chapters NR 500 to 538:
(a) Facilities where only clean soil, brick, building stone, concrete or reinforced concrete not painted with lead-based paint, broken pavement, and wood not treated or painted with preservatives or lead-based paint are disposed.
The owner obtained a WPDES Construction Site Stormwater Runoff General Permit from the DNR, but was told by the DNR that additional local approval was required to operate the landfill. Concerned about its own environmental obligations under state law including groundwater safety along with traffic and nuisance, Richfield did not issue construction permits for the project to proceed. The village was sued at the Washington County Circuit Court level and prevailed, but the Court of Appeals District II recently ruled that Scenic Pit LLC did not have to comply with the Village’s zoning and construction storm water and erosion requirements because the legislature has expressly withdrawn the Village’s power to act. The Court of Appeals decision indicates that the DNR has full authority over the siting of clean-fill landfill sites and no local approvals are needed, even though the DNR had told the village these approvals were necessary. This decision left the Village of Richfield unable to prevent the landfill, and they are currently waiting to see if the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear the case.
In the Appellate Court's decision, it states that the DNR has strict policies in place to ensure that clean-fill landfills do not endanger public safety. Unfortunately, this is not the case. By simply obtaining a Stormwater Runoff General Permit, the clean-fill landfill operator can avoid the entire landfill siting process, which has many safeguards built into it, and start operating the landfill. This is true regardless of the size of the clean-fill landfill.
One such safeguard Scenic Pit is exempt from is a traffic study, which is necessary to ensure that the extra truck traffic will not create a public danger. Scenic Pit is located on Scenic Road, a road which is aptly named. This beautiful country road is enjoyed by pedestrians and bicyclists as well as motorists and school buses. It can, however, be tricky to navigate, as it is rather hilly, narrow and winding. An estimated 250,000 quad axle trucks would enter and leave Scenic Pit over a period of 7 to 10 years. The entrance/exit is in the middle of a double crested hill on Scenic Road, which could create an extremely dangerous traffic situation. The proposed route also has these trucks passing Amy Belle Elementary School. A storm water and erosion control permit does not take these hazards into consideration, as they do not address traffic concerns. This landfill should not be exempt from a traffic study just because the contents of the quad axle trucks are considered "clean."
NR 500.08(2) also puts our groundwater in jeopardy, because it exempts the requirement that a landfill be at least 1200 feet from neighbors’ wells. There are 40 wells located within 1200 feet of Scenic Pit, the closest being less than 100 feet away. Our water supply in Richfield is unique as stated by hydrologist Dr Cherkauer in the Village of Richfield Comprehensive Plan 2014-2033:
What is particularly unique about the water supply in Richfield is that the recharge areas of the aquifer from which residents obtain their drinking water are located within the Village. That means residents are actually drinking water from a source located very close to their homes. This differs from most communities in that water supplies are pulled from the ground a great distance away from the recharge areas. This is significant because as water moves through the ground it is filtered. Therefore, the greater the distance from recharge area to a well, the more opportunity there is for the water to purify. Because the recharge area for the local groundwater supply is so close to local wells, any contamination of groundwater in recharge area is quite likely to make itself immediately apparent in the groundwater supply.
Being a closed depression, this quarry is one of the stated recharge areas. Richfield's shallow aquifer lies just 15 to 20 feet below the surface of the pit. "Clean fill" includes concrete and asphalt pavement which contain substances that could be harmful. These chemicals have quick access to our groundwater because of the porous nature of the quarry bottom. It is also concerning how easy it would be for contaminated loads to enter the landfill. The only testing required by these sites is for contaminants that you can see or smell, which is not an effective way to protect our water. The DNR does not actively monitor these sites and has indicated that it would only get involved when contamination occurs, in which case it would be too late. The topography of this area prohibits the possibility of municipal water.
By law, the exemption for clean fill sites REQUIRES that the landfill be nuisance-free, yet the DNR doesn't have a policy in place to ensure that is the case. This is another requirement of the law that goes completely unchallenged, because the DNR does not take these factors into account when issuing a storm water and erosion control permit. To make matters worse, the exemption takes away the locational requirements that ensure there is some distance between landfills and residential areas. Some areas of the quarry are actually carved into neighbors’ properties. The noise and dust created by this landfill will undoubtedly be a nuisance to the hundreds of residents surrounding it.
Another concern is the effect of the landfill on local waterways. According to the Village of Richfield’s groundwater monitoring program, ground water flows to the southeast beneath the site, toward the Bark River and beyond. The actual headwaters for the Bark River Watershed are within 1/4th mile of this site, putting this waterway at risk for contamination as the river winds its way through Wisconsin to the Mississippi River.
We urge you to act for the health and safety of the residents of Richfield, and stop this project based on groundwater concerns, public safety, and a clear violation of the nuisance-free requirement in NR 500.08(2). When the DNR issued the stormwater runoff general permit to Scenic Pit, they expected that Village approval was needed, so these other considerations were never addressed by the DNR. Unfortunately, the interpretation of this law by the Appellate Court has taken away the Village of Richfield's authority to address these concerns, without a system in place by the DNR to pass that responsibility to, leaving a dangerous void. This is a high risk experiment that could end very badly for our village and state.
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