Cooperation Saves Millions In Cleanup Costs

Sometimes a foe can become a friend. In cleaning up its Stickney and Tyler landfills, Toledo's discovered that cooperating with local industries is its best remediation policy.

From the 1940s through 1960s the city of Toledo, Ohio, landfills were jointly used by residents, business and industry. In exchange for free dumping, the city received two benefits: filling low-lying, marshy "mosquito breeding grounds" and a productive economy. Now, the despised mosquito-breeding grounds are considered to have been valuable wetlands, and the "free" landfill disposal resulted in leachate contaminating the adjacent Ottawa River.

Understanding the problem was easy. Raising money to fix it - an estimated $35 million - was not.

Key to correcting the problem was controlling leachate production. Two of the landfills, Stickney and Tyler, were closed in the 1960s with a simple soil cover, and were left undeveloped. At the time, non-existent surface drainage controls and an inadequate capping system meant contaminated leachate seeping into the adjacent river unabated.

Still, no controls were in place in 1994 when the city evaluated cleanup options for the Dura Avenue Landfill, a larger and newer site located near the older facilities. To cover the Dura site's closing costs, the city filed a lawsuit against the industrial companies who used this landfill for many years. But the lawsuit resulted in a stalemate and had little chance of raising enough funds to properly close the landfill.

In addition, because at least 75 entities were connected to Toledo's contamination, no party felt that it contributed enough to lead the remediation effort.

That situation changed when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., addressed the Stickney and Tyler landfills through its Superfund program.

By 1994, the EPA approached several potentially responsible parties, including the city of Toledo and the industrial firms the city had sued. An Engineering Evaluation and Cost Analysis (EE/CA) investigation and study was completed in 1995, which recommended permanent closure of the landfills with a multi-layer cover system to contain the wastes and leachate. The estimated remediation costs were approximately $25 million.

While the EE/CA was underway, a series of meetings were held over 18 months that included the industrial firms, community leaders and representatives of the city's landfill taskforce. The result was a new level of cooperation.

At the same time the industrial group was working with the EPA to investigate the Stickney and Tyler sites, a new city landfill taskforce made the Ottawa River cleanup a priority. This taskforce met with the industrial firms and began to understand their goals, as well as gained an appreciation for their experiences in other cleanups.

In the end, this cooperation is given credit for reducing the remediation costs by an estimated $10 million.

As part of the final remedy, engineered controls and monitoring systems were installed to bring leachate contamination under control during a five year period. The multi-layer cover system, completed in 1999, also should reduce the amount of leachate seeping into the Ottawa River. Overall, water quality in the river as well as downstream in the Maumee Bay and Lake Erie is expected to improve.

By the time the EPA approved the plan in 1997, the entities that used the landfills in the 1950s and 1960s already had negotiated a settlement to help fund the work.

The city was responsible for $7.2 million of the $25 million cost. The city received a low-interest loan through the state water pollution control revolving loan fund, traditionally used to build wastewater treatment systems.

Additionally, the city and its industrial partners are working together to find new uses for the 95-acre landfill sites. The city agreed to pay for design changes, such as flattening the landfill's slopes to allow for widening adjacent streets. The city's development team also worked with DaimlerChrysler Corp. to locate a new Jeep manufacturing plant across the street from the now remediated Stickney Landfill.

The relationships and techniques developed during the Stickney and Tyler remediation process helped Toledo change its approach to resolving the Dura Avenue Landfill issues. A settlement was reached with the industrial parties in 1998, and the Dura remedy now is under construction.