State bill stems from problems at Rock County disposal site

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Jim Leute
January 16, 2014

JANESVILLE—The state Department of Natural Resources wants a solid waste disposal site south of Janesville cleaned up, and several local haulers have previously agreed to remove the waste and take it elsewhere.

Now the state Legislature is poised to pass a law that would lighten the financial burden for the haulers who help solve the problem.

The state Assembly earlier this week passed a bill that would give the DNR discretion to waive tipping fees to facilitate any cleanup the agency requests.

The waiver would only be available to parties that did not knowingly participate in an act that caused or contributed to the need for waste removal activities.

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, authored the bill at the request of haulers asked to remove material from the now-closed Bedrock Grinding, 1005 E. La Prairie-Turtle Townline Road.

Until October, Bedrock held separate state licenses for composting and processing construction/demolition waste.

The state issued the license to process construction/demolition waste in 2011. The DNR visited the Bedrock site in 2012 for an annual inspection.

Dennis Mack, waste and materials management supervisor for the DNR's south central region, said the Bedrock site was in disarray.

“They were not following the operational plan that we approved,” Mack said, adding that enforcement action has been referred to the state Department of Justice.

At issue, Mack said, was an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 tons of construction and demolition material, including material that was not recycled as it should have been and waste material that had not been removed on a timely basis.

Bedrock, which did not seek renewal of its state licenses last fall, also engaged in yard waste composting and mulch production.

Mack said Bedrock was supposed to sort the construction/demolition material, recycle what it could and then take the leftover waste to a licensed landfill—such as the one in Janesville—on a timely basis.

Licensed landfills have safeguards in place to protect against groundwater contamination, Mack said, adding that Bedrock didn't.

“They weren't taking the waste to the landfill, and they were also doing a poor job of screening the material that came into the facility,” he said.

Mack said the DNR tried to organize a cleanup of the site by asking haulers who brought material to Bedrock to pick it up and take it to a licensed facility.

The haulers, Mack said, rightfully pointed out that they had done nothing wrong by taking the materials to a site the DNR had licensed.

They also were concerned about their potential liability for contamination at the Bedrock site, as well as the extra costs they would incur by double-hauling the material.

Ultimately, the DNR was able to offer a waiver of liability to the haulers, which basically held them harmless from the state for any contamination at Bedrock, Mack said.

To address the cost issue, Loudenbeck stepped up with her bill that would waive the state's portion of tipping fees that haulers would incur when they take the material to a licensed landfill.

That cost is about $13 per ton, Mack said, adding that the haulers will still be responsible for the balance of the landfill's tipping fee.

“They are going to incur more cost, but the waiver of liability definitely has value to them,” Mack said. “We were able to convince them that it was the right thing to do.”

An amendment to Loudenbeck's bill would also give the DNR the authority to revoke a waste facility operator's license for grievous and continuous failure to operate in accordance with its plan of operation, a power Mack said the department would have tried to use against Bedrock as early as 2012.

If Loudenbeck's bill becomes law, Mack said, the DNR will again try to work with the large haulers to Bedrock to organize the removal of the material.

“This bill would substantially reduce disposal costs for those participating in the DNR-requested cleanup,” said Loudenbeck, who represents the 31st Assembly District that includes eastern Rock and western Walworth counties. “The bill, as amended, will definitely limit the potential for a similar situation to occur elsewhere.”

In December 2012, the Bedrock facility was the scene of a fire in a huge pile of decomposing mulch. Fourteen fire departments backed up the town of Turtle Fire Department, most of them ferrying about 120,000 gallons of water to the scene.

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