CHICAGO | Gov. Pat Quinn gave final approval Sunday to a new law that prohibits landfills from operating or expanding within Cook County – a move that local activists and government officials hope brings an end to their long political fight on the issue.
The bill in question – which Quinn signed into law during ceremonies held at the Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve at the far southern end of Chicago – would not permit existing landfills in the county to expand – effectively keeping them shuttered.
Chicago city government already had imposed a moratorium on landfill operations in the city through 2025, and 10th Ward Alderman John Pope said he thought that action had put to rest this political fight.
“Hopefully, this issue is now put to bed,” Pope said. “But I thought it was resolved in 2005 (with the moratorium). Yet we have had to continue to fight.”
What happened was that Land and Lakes – operators of the River Bend Prairie landfill at 138th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue that is split between Chicago and suburban Dolton – wanted to get around city restrictions by trying to annex the entire landfill into the south suburb.
That act caused the General Assembly to pass the bill calling for a county-wide landfill ban that Quinn approved Sunday. He cited potential for environmental cleanup that could someday return the land now piled with decades of Chicago trash to public use for recreational purposes, while also saying that Cook County has too many people living here for landfills to be practical.
“Do you want your children to be couch potatoes playing video games?” Quinn asked at one point, “We want them out here in the fresh air keeping themselves fit.”
Land and Lakes officials have said they want to be able to use the full landfill to maximum capacity so that they can continue to operate for another two decades. The Dolton portion alone is reaching EPA restrictions requiring it to be shuttered next year if it cannot be expanded.
“We are very disappointed that lawmakers, including the governor, have chosen a path that may deliver short-term political gains for themselves, but delivers no long-term benefit to residents and communities in the area whatsoever,” officials said in a prepared statement.
Dolton village President Ronnie Lewis admits he does not know what will become of the landfill in his community, once it is shuttered. He expects that someday, someone will have to pay for environmental cleanup of the site, but said Sunday there is no way Dolton could afford to do that by itself.
“Absolutely not,” Lewis said. “The federal government is probably going to have to come in and do something, but I don’t know when that would happen.”
But for now, many people were focused on the fact that the River Bend Prairie facility will be shuttered. Dolton village Trustee Riley Rogers added to the festive nature of the event by bringing hot dogs and bottled water, and the Southeast Environmental Task Force arranged for guitar players Acie Cargill and Tom Versey to play music before, and after, the bill-signing ceremony.
For his part, state Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said he was pleased.
“It used to be for us who lived around here that seeing smoke and smelling garbage meant that we were home,” Trotter said. “Those days are over.”