Questions remain about future of landfills

AMSTERDAM — Apex Landfill has been quietly trying to negotiate a deal that would make its site expansion easier while cleaning up the environmental headache left behind by the old Crossridge Landfill near Steubenville, sources close to the discussions have confirmed.

The sources, who wish to remain anonymous, said Apex’s new owner, Interstate Waste Services, several months ago paid just under $5 million for about 377 acres in Harrison County for its expansion, but that the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District still has an easement that gives it control over a wetlands area between part of the new parcel and the original site.

While Apex could work around the wetlands area and still expand, with an easement from the conservation district, the landfill operators could “go straight through the property,” making construction of new landfill cells “a lot easier.”

In return for unfettered access to its properties, Apex would assist with cleaning up the runoff from the defunct Crossridge Landfill into the ecologically sensitive Cross Creek water table. Additionally, a conservation easement would be placed on the property “to protect it in perpetuity and prevent it from being a landfill ever again.”

Apex pitched the easement swap at a March meeting in the Jefferson County Tower building in Steubenville with representatives of the Jefferson County Health District, conservation district and the attorney general’s office in attendance.

Crossridge owner Joe Scugoza Jr., the subject of extensive litigation during the past decade, was not part of the meeting. Scugoza, who is on the hook for an unpaid $19 million environmental judgment dating back more than a decade plus a number of civil judgments, insists he doesn’t have the money to fix the problems and hasn’t been able to find a buyer.

Interstate Waste Services, Apex’s parent company, in 2022 had considered acquiring the Crossridge property, located near Fernwood State Forest and the Geary Bates Jefferson County Airpark, itself, and launched a multi-month feasibility study. In a show of good will, IWS did some remediation work while the study was being worked on.

But the idea of the landfill reopening was met with intense opposition within the community and IWS soon distanced itself from the idea. Sources say ISW concluded that while the Crossridge property itself is viable, it made more sense to expend their resources improving their Amsterdam site with technology that could “improve conditions at the landfill, reduce smells with new technology and collections, improve efficiency and expedite garbage transfer so trains aren’t sitting in Mingo Junction.”

In exchange for the Amsterdam easement, company officials at that meeting pitched the possibility of them paying up the $8 million it would cost to properly close the Crossridge landfill and, as a “community service,” designating it a conservation district — ensuring the roughly 500-acre property could never again be landfilled, individuals familiar with the meeting said.

But the discussions were still in the opening stage when the parties met at the Tower building. Since then, locals say they haven’t heard anything.

Cynics believe it’s the Ohio EPA that’s holding things up: Ohio EPA’s job is to protect people and the environment from significant health risks–like dangerous leachates seeping into a major water shed — and cleaning up Crossridge has long been a high priority.

But landfills — or at least the tipping fees they generate — are a major revenue stream for the Ohio EPA and regional solid waste districts, including the JB Green Team, and some in the community suggest OEPA might be loath to give up the opportunity to grow its war chest more by allowing the Crossridge site to reopen, even in a limited capacity, under new management once the cleanup is done.

OEPA District Media Coordinator Anthony Chenault said the state collects $4.75 per ton of solid waste and $1.60 per ton of construction and demolition debris landfilled in Ohio. OEPA shares in the tipping fees, with soil and water conservation districts, health departments and host communities also benefiting, Chenault said.

The revenue stream is a big one: In 2021, the most recent data available, Chenault said OEPA received nearly $75 million — $67.6 million in tipping fees from municipal solid waste and another $6.9 million in fees from construction and demolition debris, based on the 15 million tons of solid wastes and 8 million tons of construction and demolition debris landfilled in Ohio that year.

Apex itself generated a good-sized chunk of that revenue: In 2021, the landfill accepted roughly 1.5 million tons of solid waste and 723,000 tons of construction and building debris.

JB Green Team, the regional solid waste district serving Jefferson and Belmont counties, also collects tipping fees, but those numbers were not available Friday.

In an e-mail late Friday afternoon, Chenault said OEPA “has not received a permit application proposing expansion of the Apex Landfill.” He also said Ohio EPA is “not aware of any interest from anyone to operate the Crossridge site again as an active landfill.”

Meanwhile, Hannah Hudley, the public information officer for Attorney General Dave Yost, would not discuss the proposal.

“We cannot comment on pending litigation,” Hundley said. “When we have something to share we will be happy to share it.”

Hundley might not be commenting, but in the past Yost has had plenty to say about Crossridge and the condition of the watershed: After a surprise 2022 site tour, he characterized the leachate as “… ominous-looking stuff, like out of a science fiction horror movie, oozing out of the ground and heading toward” Cross Creek.

“It’s red and oily,” he said in that 2022 interview. “The only thing missing is the bubbles and vapor. You don’t need to be a chemist to know it’s bad stuff. (The) water flows downhill with everything in it …”

Yost also had expounded on how runoff from Crossridge “is impacting the environment and, particularly, (how) close (it is) to the Ohio River” and said he was “deeply concerned” by what he saw, pointing out there’s “dangerous stuff full of ammonia and other things seeping out of that landfill because it was never properly closed and it’s time for that to stop.”

Jefferson County Health Commissioner Andrew Henry said he’s in the dark, like everyone else, though he has a different theory on the delay.

“I have not heard anything else at this time,” he said. “With the court case, I think there are too many dominoes that need to fall into place before anything will really happen. That’s my opinion on what’s holding things up.”

Henry admits he likes the idea of Crossridge being closed properly, “… and I have confidence that IWS would do it well.”

“Since the easement is not our final call, I’ll leave it at that,” Henry said. “(But) I don’t want anyone who lives near Apex to think that the residents who live near Crossridge take priority over them. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be a tough decision.”

Jefferson County Commissioner Tony Morelli said no one has approached the board of commissioners, nor were they invited to the March meeting, “but (ISW) is definitely planning on expanding in Amsterdam no matter what, and if we would move the conservation district it would make it a lot cheaper to do what they’re going to do (there), and then they would clean up Crossridge, and close it the way it was supposed to be cleaned up. The county would end up with about 500 acres” to develop.

But he also said there’s nothing in writing nor have commissioners taken a position.

Commissioner Dave Maple couldn’t be reached for comment.

While he doesn’t want to see the landfill expand, Commissioner Eric Timmons said “there’s nothing we can do, they already own the land.” He said the idea of getting the Crossridge site cleaned up and a conservation district in place so it could never again be used as a dumping ground is appealing.

“I think that’s the main goal of all the people getting together, to stop (it) from (reopening),” he said.

That won’t appease the landfill’s neighbors who have been vocal about air quality since the landfill opened, complaining it’s impacted the value of their property as well as their quality of life. In response, landfill operators have said they developed an odor management plan and invested in equipment meant to intercept offensive smells.

At the same time, Steubenville residents are equally uneasy by the ooze from the now-defunct Crossridge property and want the property reclaimed for environmentally friendly uses.

And, since Apex already owns the land for its expansion, even if the soil and water conservation district holds on to its Amsterdam wetland easement, most onlookers believe it’s not likely to stop ISW from opening new cells there.

“The fact is they bought more property, they’re already there, so they’re going to do it,” one person familiar with the situation said. “It’s a no-brainer for them to come and close up Crossridge. Most anybody I talk to thinks it’s a no-brainer, but no one wants to say it.”

Complicating the situation is Ohio EPA’s assertion that it also has a say in the easement process as the easement was part of the permitting process for Apex — meaning the final decision may not even be JSWCD’s to make.

Another pointed out it’s “basically just an idea at this point, there’s nothing on paper that would pull the trigger and let this progress. There are a number of parties affected, a number of approvals they would have to go through–first and foremost, the attorney general’s office and the litigation with the Scugoza family. If the stars would align, then this plan would have to go through its own approval process.”

There’s no way to please everyone.

“If you give them the easement, it’s going to make people (in Amsterdam) upset, but people who live near Crossridge are going to thank you,” Henry has said. “It has the potential to be a no-win situation. But we’re a community, we should all support each other.”

David Cieply, vice president of IWS landfill operations, could not be reached for comment.


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