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August 27, 2014

Madison Heights upset over outdoor dump site

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

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After the Aug. 11 flood, a mountain of trash from around the region sits behind the SOCRRA transfer facility east of John R and north of 13 Mile. City officials were frustrated by the lack of notification and questioned whether SOCRRA had proper clearance from the state.

MADISON HEIGHTS — The last weeks of August saw residents and city officials in Madison Heights upset over the dumping of thousands of tons of trash in their city, not far from a senior center, middle school and nearby households, who found the odor offensive and worried about the health hazard posed by an open-air trash heap. 

At press time, SOCRRA — the Southeast Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority — had until the second day of September to get the mess cleaned up, and officials were still puzzling how it all happened in the first place. 

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett, during an interview Thursday, Aug. 21, recounts the events as follows:

On Monday, Aug. 18, one week after the Aug. 11 storm that flooded the area with six inches of rain, the city of Madison Heights was contacted by a concerned resident who noticed piles of trash spilling out from behind SOCRRA’s transfer facility east of John R and north of 13 Mile.

When code enforcement officers visited the site, they reportedly found what must’ve been multiple loads piled up under the iconic smokestacks, running the length of the facility’s backside. The facility is next door to the Madison Heights Senior Citizen Center and about 500 yards from John Page Middle School and nearby neighborhoods.

The stench was overwhelming in the humid heat, and there was immediate concern about the landfill leaking into the ground and attracting rats, insects and other vermin.  

The facility, a former incinerator that hasn’t burned trash in decades, is supposed to keep trash indoors. The smaller trucks come in and transfer their load into larger trucks that then haul them out of town to SOCRRA’s primary landfill in Plymouth.

The trash is not even from Madison Heights, but rather from neighboring communities serviced by SOCRRA. Madison Heights is not a member of SOCRRA, and the city had not been notified by SOCRRA about the pile.

Corbett said they did it under cover of darkness, likely dumping the loads over the weekend of Aug. 16-17.  Around mid-afternoon Wednesday, Aug. 20, SOCRRA received an emergency permit to dump there from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which said they had until the end of the day Sept. 1 to clean up.

The emergency permit goes along with Gov. Rick Snyder declaring a state of emergency, and recognizes that SOCRRA could make more runs more quickly if it can stop at Madison Heights to unload rather than making the trip out to Plymouth, especially when the landfills aren’t open 24/7.

Karen Bever, executive assistant for SOCRRA, said they’re following protocol.

“We have a permit to operate the facility in Madison Heights two times per year. One of those times is to make certain the facility is still able to be run if we need to use it. The second time we use it is in the fall when the cities are picking up leaves; they haul it to that facility, and then we haul it to our composting site in Rochester Hills. The permit we have actually states that it is a backup for the SOCRRA Troy Transfer Station, which means it’s like an overflow,” Bever said.

“We’ve never had to do this before; this is the first time it’s ever been done,” Bever continued, referring to the outdoor dumping. “In order for us to act on this and use this facility, from what I understand, there is an emergency provision at the state, through the DEQ … where we can run this just as a transfer facility for us to bring material in and send it out to a landfill, which is what we’re trying to do. We’re receiving four to five times more material per day than we’ve ever received in the facility’s history. Because the Troy transfer facility is so full, additional material is going to Madison Heights, but we’re bringing it in and bringing it out, so it should be a short-term thing.”

But Councilman Corbett points to email exchanges from health departments at Oakland County and the state that indicate neither side was sure they’d allow this until right before the permit was granted, suggesting perhaps that SOCRRA made an assumption and went about dumping in secret to avoid conflict.

“All through the first half of the week, SOCRRA was on very dangerous ground, since for a number of days there, there was a chance what they were doing there would not be sanctioned by the state,” Corbett said. “My point is, within an hour of when (the permit) was issued, most officials didn’t think it was going to happen.

“I mean, how do you dump tons of trash in someone’s community and never think to call them? We’re open 24/7, by the way. The city can be contacted. We don’t exactly go away on the weekends,” Corbett said. “And SOCRRA may say they were informally approved, but the director of public health for the state and the director of public health for Oakland County didn’t know, and the (Oakland County) Board of Commissioners didn’t know, either. So SOCRRA must have had a very cozy arrangement with the state, since no one else knew this was coming for sure.”

In compliance with the emergency permit, the city of Madison Heights ordered its police department to stand down and allow SOCRRA trucks back into the facility. Previously, the city had been barring them access while both sides waited for the state to weigh in on the matter.

At press time, while the mess was still being cleaned up, Corbett said he feels for everyone inconvenienced by the dump, and he hoped SOCRRA cleaned up soon.

“This is just a nightmare scenario,” Corbett said. “I think the state erred in issuing this emergency permit. I don’t think they fully appreciated where they were allowing this dumping to occur, this close to a school, and this close to seniors. It’s just outrageous.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.