Examining the Legal Issues Surrounding the Bridgeton Landfill

Examining the Legal Issues Surrounding the Bridgeton Landfill

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and Republic Services reached a partial resolution to an ongoing dispute earlier this month over the state’s request that Bridgeton landfill operators install additional temperature monitoring probes at the troublesome site following concerns by the state that a four-year-old smoldering underground fire may reach decades-old illegally dumped radioactive waste in the adjacent West Lake Landfill. But contentions remain between the state and the company.

“We are pleased that Republic has agreed to install temperature monitoring probes in the north quarry where recent data shows they are desperately needed,” Koster says. “We are disappointed, however, that the company is refusing to provide the timely, comprehensive information we have requested in the interest of protecting public health. We look forward to the court’s resolution of the remaining legal issues. We will continue our effort to compel Republic to share vital information and, ultimately, to hold Republic responsible for its conduct.”

St. Louis Country Circuit Court Judge Michael Jamison didn’t issue the emergency order to collect possibly radioactive contamination samples Koster requested, but it will require Republic to conduct additional temperature monitoring closer to the radioactive waste. Koster’s request was based on data from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) that showed fluctuations in landfill gases and temperatures in late December.

Republic answered the request for additional monitoring by sharing plans already in place for an additional nine temperature monitors and arguing that the landfill is already being appropriately managed. Republic has also argued that jurisdiction over the radioactive waste lies not with the MDNR, but with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the West Lake Landfill and is supposed to be developing a plan to isolate the site.

“Republic is fully committed to the safety of its employees and neighbors, and to the aggressive management of the subsurface reaction. Those commitments are spelled out explicitly in a binding legal agreement with the state and we have repeatedly gone above and beyond those commitments,” says Russ Knocke, director of public affairs for Republic Services, parent company of Bridgeton Landfill. “Bridgeton Landfill is in a managed state. It is safe and stabilized. The site, along with the adjacent West Lake Landfill, are among the most studied and closely monitored landfills in the country. The landfill has invested considerable resources—more than $125 million—to do right by the community.”

Correspondence between Republic and state officials also indicates an attempt by the company to comply with the previous court agreement prior to latest filing by Koster. Bridgeton operators say the request for additional data was made during the holidays, with an infeasible four-day deadline.

“The timeline set forth in the (MDNR’s) letter does not allow for any discussion or response, even within timelines set forth by the agreed order, and in fact makes demands that are impossible to meet,” wrote Bridgeton’s Environmental Manager Brian J. Power in the Jan. 5 letter to the MDNR.

Knocke says Republic will work continue to work with state leaders to ensure safety and good environmental stewardship at the landfill.

“The Attorney General’s Office’s recent court filings reference an ‘emergency’ that Republic respectfully submits does not actually exist,” says Knocke. “The data continue to show, quite clearly, that the reaction is not moving through the North Quarry toward the RIM (radiologically impacted material) … For now, two previously approved monitoring devices will be put in new locations."

The court has also asked for clarification on whether it or the EPA has jurisdiction over the case.

Settling class action claims

Despite numerous improvements to Bridgeton, an odor problem around the site resulted in a class action lawsuit being filed, and Knocke says 981 out of the 1,244 identified class-action members have agreed to fair compensation for any loss of use or enjoyment of their property as a result of odors emanating from the landfill between Nov. 1, 2010 and Dec, 5, 2013, according to Republic. The final settlement represents a 79 percent participation rate with a total payout of $4.8 million, according to Knocke.

A quarter of the settlement will go to the attorney for the residents, with the remainder split equally among those involved in the class-action suit.

Republic said in the 18 months prior to the settlement, it invested more than $100 million in site improvements to manage the effects of the chemical reaction in the south quarry and any associated odors. Investments include installing an advanced capping system over the south and north quarries, adding more than 40 gas collection wells as part of a new comprehensive gas extraction system, and introducing a sophisticated flare system to eliminate odorous captured gas.

The roughly 80 remaining residents who did not take part in the original settlement have begun to file new lawsuits against Republic, and are seeking in excess of up to $25,000 per household originally offered in the first round of settlements. In the new cases, each member of a household is seeking their own settlement amount, starting at $25,000.

Daniel Finney, the attorney for the residents, says the residents are also working to retain the right to file future complaints should the status of the nuisance at Bridgeton ever transition from temporary to permanent. Residents in the first settlement signed releases giving up the right to file any future nuisance complaints against Bridgeton and Republic, says Finney. The cases have been moved from state to federal court at the request of Republic, according to Finney, and trial dates are expected to be set over the next few weeks.

Finney says another set of complaints are also taking shape, involving residents and employees located within a three-mile radius of Bridgeton, and that suit could involve more than 20,000 people.

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