Though the city dump has been closed for more than a decade, taxpayers are still paying for it.
And the price is going to get a whole lot higher.
What’s still pushing up costs is the necessity of purchasing groundwater rights to nearby property that’s been contaminated by the toxic stew that leached out of the landfill in the years before it was encased beneath layers of plastic, soil and sand.
The ultimate tab? Nobody knows, except that officials say it’s sure to be millions of dollars.
“I really can’t get my arms around the final numbers,” said Dale Clift, the city attorney.
Under the consent agreement the city signed with state Department of Environmental Protection in 1995, it is required to buy the groundwater rights to any property contaminated by material that’s spread from beneath the dump.
It also has to monitor the underground water for at least another 15 years and probably much more to determine the extent of the pollution.
Clift said the material has continued to spread ever since the landfill’s forced closure, but it appears from monitors that the plume’s growth may be slowing.
Already, though, it’s grown so extensive that at one point,
Complicating matters is the difficulty of figuring out how much the groundwater rights to a property should cost.
There’s a court fight going on now between one nearby plot owner, Tilcon Minerals, and the city, which is racking up major legal bills in pursuit of the lowest possible payment for 25 unimproved acres with spoiled groundwater.
The case has already gone to the state Supreme Court, but it’s back in a trial court now.
Tilcon is seeking $742,000 from the city.
But the case points to the magnitude of the entire tab.
John Smith, a Board of Finance member, said the Tilcon case numbers are “like throwing a basketball in the ocean” compared to the big picture.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said
The payments are likely to be “pretty substantial” before the closure is finally completed, Klocko said.
Both Smith and Klocko said the city is on the hook for millions.
The city closed the landfill in 1997 after using it for half a century as a dumping ground for everything from household trash to oil drums.
At the time, officials worried about the expense involved in buying groundwater rights, but it’s not clear anyone realized just how extensive the problem would become.
Clift said the city faces “a very complex litigation matter” in dealing with the issues raised. It has hired an environmental law firm to handle the case.
Klocko said that given the anticipated costs of resolving the litigation, the city should get ready financially.
“The bottom line is it would behoove us to set funds aside,” Klocko said.
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