Not a temporary inconvenience

Life is filled with temporary inconveniences. A long line at the grocery store cash register is a temporary inconvenience. A flat tire is a temporary inconvenience. The toxic clouds of hydrogen sulfide that pour from the site of Sunny Farms Landfill, however, do not qualify as a temporary inconvenience.

But that is the narrative that Sunny Farms Landfill personnel have concocted recently. Although landfill management launched a damage-control tour and called residents to apologize for the smell around the turn of the year, they rewrote their script to accommodate their newest doctored stance – the “temporary inconvenience” one – in preparation for the public meeting Feb. 13 in Tiffin, where they attempted to defend themselves from criticism with thin, stock-build answers or outright silence. They sat comfortably between staff from the agencies that are supposed to regulate the landfill: Sandusky Seneca Ottawa Solid Waste District, Seneca County General Health District, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Health.

Seneca County General Health District glossed over the longstanding odor complaints, dating back to at least and focused on the most recent spike of issues in past few months. The event moderator skipped a comment twice that suggested the Ohio EPA didn’t catch recent drainage violations at the facility during inspections until a citizen watchdog pointed them out to the agency. Ohio Department of Health allowed the landfill to bill its smell as a mere nuisance while also outlining health effects of chronic low-level exposure to hydrogen sulfide and telling attendees that they should seek medical advice on their own dime. None of them wanted to touch the fact that the landfill admitted to misrepresenting thousands of tons of the garbage from their trash trains – and that not much was done about the direct violation of its permits.

But surely, it was easy for the agencies to write off our complaints as some nags on a little smell: Not a single representative on stage lives within 10 miles of the landfill. They all were able to return home that night, surely satisfied that their families are safely far, far away from their favorite cash cow. They hold western Seneca County hostage in a haze of toxic odor in exchange for millions of dollars in landfill fees – $2 million to Ohio EPA and a bit under $1 million each to Seneca County General Health District and Ottawa Sandusky Seneca Solid Waste District – from the safe distances of their offices in Tiffin, Fremont, Bowling Green and Columbus. And when the locals get rowdy at the foothills of the manmade mountain with a post-apocalyptic name, they file some relatively meaningless violation paperwork – and might as well put the routing numbers to their bank accounts in the postscript.

Sunny Farms personnel will continue to sell themselves as heroic community partners, even after Jackson Township and the city council in Fostoria, two of their closest neighbors, have declared they’d like to see the landfill’s permit yanked. But if an agency doesn’t fan away the landfill’s smoke screen and take substantial action soon, the problems at Sunny Farms will devour the city of Fostoria completely and continue to creep well into cities such as Tiffin and Findlay, both of which already experience landfill odors on their fringes but don’t want to confess their close relation. Even if the state and the county have proven that they have no hesitations in discriminating against Fostoria, many of us here work hard to rejuvenate the city and heal its worn reputation – and that process could be accelerated if we got just one thing: A breath of fresh air. Literally.

Seneca County residents are encouraged to attend the board of health meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in Tiffin University’s Franks Hall. When the landfill’s permit is discussed there, we must convince the health district to fix this “temporary inconvenience” with a permanent solution.

Nick Buchanan,