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Honorable Mention - "The Effects of Negligence"

1993 Anne Horton Writing Award
Honorable Mention
"The Effects of Negligence"
Brian Buikema

There is a crime taking place in Whiteside County involving the city of Morrison and the surrounding areas. I am referring to the crime of negligence, negligence of human and environmental safety as a direct result of the county board's approval of Waste Management Incorporated's (WMI) proposal for a new county landfill. The proposal, as stated in the September 15, 1992, issue of the Whiteside News Sentinel, calls for the construction of Prairie Hills landfill surrounding the older Whiteside County landfill. This new landfill will cover 492 acres with an added 229 acre landfill disposal area. The new landfill will accept waste, sent via trucks and semis, from six different Chicago counties. All this trash will be deposited here in Whiteside County, only one and one half miles east of Morrison. The resultant will build a mountain of trash 161 feet high, higher than the corn silos on my grandfather's Morrison farm. We as county citizens should be aware of the problems this landfill creates. Health risks, a reduction in land values, and added traffic problems will plague our county. We, as concerned citizens, need to ensure our county's future by opposing the construction of the Prairie Hills landfill.

As a new citizen of Morrison I was unaware of this county's landfill crisis until just recently. However, I can recall visiting Morrison during summer vacations. I remember driving with Grandpa to one of his many pastures to dump a truck full of garbage. A private dump, how simple and easy. Ten years later, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) found contamination in a small creek that ran through a corner of his pasture. The IEPA found a hill of old appliances and dead foliage, as well as assorted tires, shoes, and car parts. The IEPA easily traced the property to my grandfather's name and for his negligence he was issued a small fine to cover the cost of cleaning up the contamination. As more private dumps are disappearing, larger county and sectional dumps are surfacing throughout our nation.

Despite positive efforts and innovative solutions by landfill engineers to prevent landfills from leaking, the truth is that no landfill is completely safe. Because the Whiteside County landfill is now overfilled, it has recently closed, but with its share of problems. Since it opened in 1969, General Electric of Morrison dumped tons of hazardous waste in the form of cleaning chemicals and acidic solvents into the landfill. These toxic chemicals eventually seeped into the groundwater, contaminating the eastern section of Morrison's water supply. I know of several fellow classmates whose families are forced to buy bottled water for safety instead of drinking the green water that sits in their wells. G.E.'s negligence resulted in this large environmental tragedy that should have been avoided. Millions of dollars will be spent by G.E., along with the city of Morrison, for the cleanup measures. But who will pay for the many thousands of gallons of contaminated water sitting in peoples' wells already? Ultimately, it will be innocent citizens who will pay with their lives as a direct result of G.E.'s negligence. Because of Morrison's financial difficulty, WMI offered to help in the cleanup measures. Under the proposal stated earlier, WMI will pay for the cost of cleaning the old landfill in return for the use of the surrounding land for a new landfill. The proposal also stated that the new Prairie Hills landfill will not leak like the old one because of a large plastic liner covering the Prairie Hills acreage. In a recent letter sent to the editor of Whiteside News Sentinel (October 13, 1992), a concerned citizen said he had called the IEPA office and talked to Donald Berry, a safety official on state and county landfills. He was quoted as saying, "All landfills leak." The county board saw no other alternatives to solving the problem and voted "yes" to their proposal despite the objections and complaints led by Citizen's Against Regional Landfill or CARL. WMI's negligence towards the personal opinions and the understandable worries of local residents sparked bitter debates throughout the county.

WMI's proposal brings not only health risks but also traffic problems and land value depression. The Illinois Department Of Transportation (IDOT) states that the car count on Route 30 is already more than double the average rural highway traffic. Most rural highways contain 2,000 to 3,000 cars a day. The car count of Route 30 now is 7,100 a day (Whiteside News Sentinel; August 11, 1992). Imagine the extra driving and accidents that will take place, not to mention the wear and tear that will lead to the destruction of our roads by the constant traffic. Land values surrounding the future Prairie Hills landfill have dropped in value as well. Barb Kophamer of American Dream Realty in Morrison was quoted in the August 11,1992, Whiteside News Sentinel as saying, "We've had people who won't even look at property within two miles of the landfill" (Prairie Hills).

There are a couple ways of dealing with the present landfill crisis. Some counties around the state have developed different means of dealing with the issue. The Woodford County Board adopted an ordinance requiring a $250,000 application fee to all companies wishing to build a landfill in their county (USA Today; November 12, 1992). I believe that garbage dumps should be as near to the source as possible. This way long range transportation of trash can be avoided, ultimately resulting in saving money, money that could be put to good use towards neighborhood recycling programs.

After living for twenty-three years with health risks, traffic, and decreasing land values, why should the city of Morrison have to suffer through these problems again with another landfill? Although approval was reached by the county board, the fight is far from over. If you are interested in taking back Whiteside County from the unsympathetic corporation WMI, the members of CARL could use your thoughts as well as your support. The future of Morrison relies on everyone's support. Acting together, we have more impact on political issues and decisions than you may think.