As the landfill in Seymour expands its footprint again, frustrated residents are getting organized and demanding compensation

The Seven Mile Creek Landfill is set to expand, making it the fourth requested expansion in 20 years.

Green+For+Life+Environmental+has+requested+to+expand+the+Seven+Mile+Creek+landfill+where+nearby+residents+are+fighting+for+property+protections.

McKenna Dirks

Green For Life Environmental has requested to expand the Seven Mile Creek landfill where nearby residents are fighting for property protections.

Dann Jackson used to spend his days fishing for trout in the Seven Mile Creek, which winds through his native Seymour, but those days were put to a stop when he could no longer stand the strong odor coming from the creek.

Jackson and other Seymour residents are concerned about things like foul smell and property value guarantees — which offers a fair value sale of a home — regarding the expansion of the Seven Mile Creek Landfill. For more than a year, residents have been pushing for better outcomes and continue to negotiate.

“I grew up on a dairy farm,” Jackson said. “My great-grandfather moved to that place in 1936, so why should I have to move because of that landfill? It might be making it more difficult for me to stay here.”

When the owners of the landfill requested in July, 2018 to expand again —  for the fourth time in 20 years — Kathy Campbell, a Seymour resident, said she was in disbelief. After some internet searching, Campbell found that residents in other communities, with landfills owned by Green For Life Environmental (GFL) — a private Canadian-based company that purchased the Seven Mile Creek Landfill in fall 2020 — were receiving benefits, compensation and protections for daily waste clean up.

While other communities received compensation and had neutralizers installed to eliminate odor coming from the landfill, Campbell said in their neighborhood, the waste was only cleaned up twice a month. Eventually, waste clean up started happening once a week after complaints from Seymour residents.

“There were just all kinds of little things that would have kept us safer,” Campbell said.

GFL offers property value guarantees for residents within one mile of other landfill sites it owns in Wisconsin, Campbell said, but not in Seymour. 

A 2005 study by Richard Ready, an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University, said the closer a person lives to a higher volume landfill, the more likely their property values will be negatively impacted.

Campbell created a petition for compensation and took it door-to-door in her neighborhood. It lays out a plan for GFL, presented by the Seven Mile Creek Neighborhood Association, to pay out $3,500 per year to those within a half-mile radius of the landfill, and $2,000 per year to those within one-half mile to a mile from the landfill. Currently, residents do not receive annual compensation.

Campbell said the average compensation up to a half-mile radius of a landfill owned by GFL in Wisconsin is $5,300, and up to a one-mile radius is $4,600.

“What we’re asking is very reasonable,” Campbell said.

The Siting Committee, which is responsible for negotiation in the final agreement between the city, county and town of Seymour and GFL, suggested annual compensation of $1,500 for residents within one mile of the landfill, as well as annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index.

GFL offered to pay $1,500 per year with a 1.5% increase annually for those within three-quarters of a mile of the landfill, but continues to reject property value protection, which would ensure a fair value sale if a resident chose to sell their home.

The Siting Committee also requested a tonnage fee of $2.35 per ton of waste, to which GFL responded with $1.95 per ton — the current fee is about $1.71 per ton. Tonnage fees are paid by GFL to the town of Seymour, Eau Claire County, and the city of Eau Claire to help pay for things like damage caused by waste trucks on roads.

Negotiations between the Siting Committee and GFL, which started in 2019, are crucial in the expansion as the landfill will be increasing in size significantly.

Campbell said negotiations have become more tense because residents began demanding what she feels they should have been getting all along. She said it has been mentioned to her recently that she’s a disruptor in the negotiation process, putting light on the situation and asking something of GFL.

“I’m trying to be honest,” Campbell said. “I’m trying to be representative of a large group. These aren’t just what I want, this is really what people deserve.”

The Wisconsin DNR approved the expansion of the northeast end of the landfill in June. The expansion is expected to allow operations to continue through 2029.

“It’s gone through our entire portion of review and approval, but they’re still in the local approval stage,” Aaron Kent, a hydrologist of the DNR, said. “They’re negotiating certain things that they might want done above and beyond what our state’s laws and statutes have required them to do.”

Kent said the current landfill is 79.5 acres with a maximum volume capacity of over 10 million cubic yards. He said with the expansion, it would increase to about 92 acres with a maximum volume capacity of around 14 million cubic yards. The expansion would increase the overall footprint by 12.5 acres.

This expansion will account for waste coming in from out of state as well. Kent said about 21% of waste came from out of state — mainly Minnesota — in 2020 and 79% from in-state.

Martin Herrick, an environmental engineer of the DNR, said a big part of waste coming from other states is the trucking costs. He said Wisconsin’s lower environmental fees have long made it a more affordable state to bring waste to.

According to the Wisconsin DNR website, the Seven Mile Creek landfill is the top Wisconsin landfill receiving out of state waste.

After the expansion, Kent said the landfill will be the highest elevation point above sea level in Eau Claire County.

 “I can remember as a child, that landfill was its own ground,” Jackson said. “And over the years, it’s just gotten bigger … and that’s disappointing in my view.”

Jackson said growing up in Seymour, he knew the landfill was always there, but it didn’t seem to deter anyone from wanting to live where they wanted, the way it does now. 

“Yes, it is necessary, something we need to have,” Jackson said.

“But I just hope that the landfill can be fair to the residents and think more about the residents that live close to it.”