The big hill off Lebanon Road east of Collinsville is actually a pile of decades-old garbage decomposing in a long-closed landfill.
Yet, every year that hill costs the city of Collinsville between $50,000 and $100,000 to maintain and monitor as required by the Illinois Environmental Agency.
Last year, the city spent $80,598 to monitor and maintain the landfill. This year, it has budgeted $64,400. The budget includes more than $34,000 annually to hire Tetra Tech, a company that monitors and tests the groundwater near the landfill and prepare reports and permit applications required by the IEPA.
First opened in 1968, the city closed the landfill to any new garbage in 1980. It was capped that same year. Wells were drilled around the landfill to monitor the water going in and the water coming out of the landfill for contaminants. The IEPA requires the city to monitor, maintain and secure the landfill, assuring the clay cap is intact, no trees are growing and no garbage is poking through before it will officially certify the landfill as closed.
A landfill can remain in the monitoring status for decades and the IEPA inspects landfills annually to assure they remain in compliance with the rules.
"They have submitted the request to (be certified closed), but that has not been approved," said Chris Cahnovsky, IEPA Regional Manager. "They have to be in compliance with groundwater standards and it has be secured. Right now, they are not in compliance. They had a rather large leachate seep and had what appeared to be leachate getting in to Canteen Creek. They've been working diligently to alleviate that and are doing a good job."
The city must also pump and dispose of the leachate that percolates through the cap of the landfill, Cahnovsky said. It is collected as it percolates and taken to the city's wastewater treatment plant where it is treated as raw sewage, said Rod Cheatham, director of streets for Collinsville.
"Leachate is the garbage juice," Cahnovsky explained. "Their leachate doesn't have an odor because it's an old landfill. Theirs is orange because of all the iron."
Cheatham said the city is aware the landfill is currently not in compliance, partially due to a collapse of a creek bank bordering the landfill. The city has been trying to repair the sloughed bank, but muddy conditions have made repair impossible so far. He hopes the repairs will be completed in the next few weeks.
Collinsville's history as a mining town has had a negative effect on the official closing of the landfill , Cheatham said. Sitting near the closed landfill is a gob pile. Gob, which is short for garbage off bituminous, is the waste left behind from coal mining operations. The city has been working with the IEPA since 2008 to get an adjustment made to the standards of water monitored from the landfill to take into consideration the contamination that exists from the gob pile.
"The ultimate goal is for us to receive an adjusted standard for the water and hopefully stop pumping leachate, which requires and excessive amount of manpower," Cheatham said. "If the IEPA certifies it as closed, we hope to test less, too."
The petitions for the standards adjustments cost the city in legal fees, which it has budgeted to spend $10,200 this year. Since 2008, the city has spent $42,902 in its attempts to get the IEPA standards adjusted for the Lebanon Road landfill.
"Mine gob is present in a lot of the area," Cheatham said. "The contaminants in the water sampling from the landfill is consistent with mine gob, not the landfill. The water going into the landfill is the same as the water coming out. The contaminants are not from the landfill."
The water tested has found mostly chlorides and dissolved solids, none considered to be hazardous. There are no wells used for human consumption near the landfill.
"The landfill is solid," Cheatham said of its safety. "I have no concerns about the landfill contaminating our groundwater. The IEPA is on top of that. I know it's safe. While I know it's a pain, they are keeping the water safe for everyone. They are doing their job and they are doing it well. I didn't create this problem, but, it is my goal to solve this problem."
The city no longer has an open landfill, Cheatham said.
"Nor will we ever," he added. Instead, the city hires a sanitation company to haul garbage out of the city.
When the landfill is finally certified as closed by the IEPA, the city will still have restrictions on its use. Structures cannot be built on the landfill, but other cities have turned their closed landfills into golf courses, parks, green spaces and wildlife areas.
"They can do pretty much anything that doesn't disturb the cap or cause violations of the Environmental Protection Act," Cahnovsky said. "Millstadt's is a park. There are some landfills out there that you would never know was a landfill."
Contact reporter Jennifer A. Schaaf at email@example.com or 618-239-2667.