By SCOTT COTTOS
For The Courier
TIFFIN — Attorneys for Sunny Farms Landfill near Fostoria have reached an agreement with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on the facility’s continued operation, the Seneca County health board was told Thursday.
As a result, a Monday health board meeting — to consider the landfill’s appeal of the health board’s intent to deny its operating license — has been canceled.
Though he had not yet received a copy of the agreement, Seneca County General Health District attorney Joe Durham told the county health board Thursday that he has learned that “an agreement in principle” between the landfill and the Ohio EPA had been reached on a consent order “that would be filed in the common pleas court that they are in substantial compliance with the solid waste rules and regulations.”
He added, “There will be substantial penalties for violations and there will be conditions on how they are to operate in the future.”
The health board scheduled a meeting for Aug. 5 to discuss its next move, after members have a chance to see the agreement. The meeting is slated for 6 p.m. at the health district offices.
Some board members spoke of possibly adding conditions to the agreement, but Laura Wallrabenstein of the health department’s environmental division said that likely would not gain legal approval.
Durham said he was told by a representative of the Ohio attorney general’s office that the document was awaiting the signature of Ohio EPA Director Laurie Stevenson as well as a letter indicating Sunny Farms’ substantial compliance.
Reacting to a number of EPA violations committed by the landfill in recent years, and the emission of foul odors from the landfill, the health board on Feb. 28 issued an intent to deny a license to Sunny Farms. That decision was supposed to be discussed at Monday’s meeting.
But Durham told the health board that going ahead with the hearing next week would be ill-advised.
“It means that if we are to start a hearing on Monday morning, every investigator or witness is going to get on the stand and say they are in substantial compliance, which is the standard of whether or not you’re going to issue a license,” he said. “We don’t have the agreement. I can’t tell you what’s in it because I haven’t seen it, but I’m not sure going forward with a hearing makes sense, given what has been relayed to us at this point.”
“It seems like the EPA has maybe taken it out of your hands,” Durham added.
“I’m just frustrated,” health board President Jimmie Young said. “I think most of us are. We need to look at that agreement. I think the EPA’s not been doing its due diligence as well as we have.”
Since Feb. 28, a number of improvements have been made at the landfill, and fewer complaints about odors have been made.
Matt Neely, senior vice president of Tunnel Hill Partners, the landfill’s owner, called the consent order a win for the landfill.
“We are working very hard to meet the standards that the Ohio EPA and the health department have set and the consent decree really just memorializes the efforts we’ve been making and also the oversight that we have been receiving from the Ohio EPA and the health department,” he said Thursday. “So, I think it’s definitely kind of the resolution of a lot of months of hard work.”
As for the sanctions Tunnel Hill will be facing, he said: “We’re never happy having to pay penalties. We think we are going above and beyond the requirements to put environmental controls in place and we’re spending a lot of money to do that. But we understand the process and we’re moving forward.”
The Ohio EPA last week said the landfill violated its output limit of sulfur dioxide gas in the 12-month period ending in May 2019, but Neely said that was inadvertent due to improvements being made.
“The SO2 emissions are a byproduct of controlling the odors,” he said, adding that reducing hydrogen sulfide gas created the sulfur dioxide. “We aren’t emitting SO2 at levels that would cause any health effects, and part of our consent order with the Ohio EPA will be to ensure we never cause any health effects for SO2 emissions.”