Thursday, September 26, 2002

Mount Rumpke's owners squeezed for space

Approval pace proving glacial

By James McNair,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Just as mountains take eons to form, the proposed enlargement of Hamilton County's tallest peak has been nothing short of glacial.

[photo] The Rumpke landfill in Colerain township looms over Route 27.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        At 1,075 feet, the rise is no McKinley or Everest. Its importance is economic, not geologic, and measured in tonnages, not feet.

        For Mount Rumpke, as it is known to residents of Colerain Township, is Hamilton County's only operating landfill, one that grows by an average of 6,200 tons of trash every day, but which is running out of room.

        The owner, Rumpke Consolidated Cos. of Cincinnati, wants to enlarge the landfill by 95 acres. It also wants to raise the daily dumping limit to 10,000 tons from 8,000 tons. Without the added capacity, the company says the landfill will be gorged with garbage by late 2004. Unless Mount Rumpke is enlarged, Hamilton County will become a pure exporter of its solid waste. Other local counties, such as Warren, also wouldn't have a place for their trash.

How Rumpke wants to expand
    The Tristate's largest landfill started in 1945 on what used to be a hog farm.
    Back in the 1930s, Barney and Bill Rumpke collected garbage for free from their neighbors in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Carthage. They fed the waste, most of it food scraps, to the hogs. When officials declared that practice unsanitary, they stopped. But the neighbors still wanted the Rumpkes to take their garage away, and they offered them money to do it.
    So the hogs were sold, and the Rumpkes went into the trash business.
    Today, the Rumpke Sanitary Landfill occupies 234 acres of a 440-acre company-owned tract. It is the largest of the company's nine landfills.
    The privately held company's Web site says 90 family members are among Rumpke's 2,800 employees.
    Rumpke agreed to pay a $1 million fine after a 1996 lightning strike at Mount Rumpke triggered what Attorney General Betty Montgomery called “the largest trash landslide in Ohio history.”
        “We've only got about two years of space here,” Rumpke spokeswoman Shelly Sack said. “If the garbage needed to be diverted, I don't believe there's enough volume in our other sites in Ohio and Kentucky to cover for it.”

        Rumpke, which began campaigning for the landfill expansion in January 1999, says the move would extend the landfill's life by up to 15 years. The company has conducted public hearings, obtained a rezoning and a number of lesser permits. What it needs most of all is the approval of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

        Tuesday night, the Ohio EPA conducted what it calls a public information session for people concerned about the impact of a bigger, busier landfill.

        Most of those who attended expressed serious reservations about the 41 percent broadening of the landfill's base. They complained about the overpowering smell, the gray shale dust that covers their cars, and the effect on wetlands.

        They also complained about the relative absence of state monitoring of landfill operations.

        “Rumpke has been doing 90 percent of the monitoring,” said Caren Whitcomb, who lives near the landfill. “That's what Enron did, too.”

        In addition to expanding the landfill's footprint, Rumpke wants to raise the dump depth of a 67-acre swale on the south end of the current landfill. And in a separate application, Rumpke is asking for a 100-foot vertical increase on a 95-acre patch of the dump's northwest corner, raising the elevation there to 1,000 feet.

        Approval is not around the corner. Ohio EPA is talking with Rumpke about resolving 66 issues specified in a September 2001 notice to the company.

        “If the company fails to address any of these deficiencies, they can't go forward and they can't expand the landfill,” Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heather Lauer said.

        Ms. Lauer said the agency would not say what, if any of the deficiencies are considered major.

        “We want to make sure anything in the landfill is not going to contaminate the groundwater and that the landfill is constructed to keep the (leaching liquid waste) from going through the ground,” she said.

        If the agency does grant a “draft” permit, Ms. Lauer said it will conduct a full, formal public hearing before giving Rumpke final approval.

        Although the landfill will grow, Ms. Sack of Rumpke said the company would not increase the size of its active dumping area. She also maintains that odors would not increase.

        “People know us as a good company and, for the most part, have been pretty supportive,” Ms. Sack said. “Offhand, I can't think of a single adjacent owner who's against the project.”

        Jenny Callison contributed to this report.


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