I appreciated the well-articulated article Gail Frie wrote in the paper regarding the landfill. It is a complicated issue involving many people, their habits and efforts, costs and budgets, fears and unknowns, and even some realities that are difficult to address. I wonder if you could continue to clarify our understanding by allowing him to write a follow-up piece to address some of the questions that I, and maybe others, may have after reading the article?

Here are some of my questions:

1. The 60-inch clay liner went above and beyond regulations, but anyone with a settling basement or who has read about the failing dams will know that moisture will take the path of least resistance and no liner is a guarantee. Is it better than what we had? Yes. But can it be a 100% guarantee against groundwater contamination?

2. Gail talked about large, welded patches being the fix for any pinhole leaks detected. The integrity of the liner then relies on the integrity of the patch. While it may last, it may also go the way of the bike tire patch or that beach item you patched. Once the drainage layer is added and we start dumping and driving over this base, wouldn’t there likely be other untested or unrepaired pinholes created by the pressure or potential poking of items through the 18-inch fill?

3. The 25 monitoring wells are great, but contamination would be detected only twice a year, and only after the fact that it had occurred. With all the talk of the effects of PFAs and the issues those residents and communities face, are we confident that these wells will provide protection, or will they just act as an alarm system of an already occurred disaster?

4. While Gail stated that local landfills keep money in the local economy, he also mentioned loans that are paid back with interest. This doesn’t seem like a profitable business venture. More importantly, why is asking for more waste the answer to a cost-effective operation? lsn’t that just perpetuating our space needs and any potential environmental risk?

5. Will the proposed expansion be built with the same care and consideration for the environment that was detailed in the original design? What about the “seam” area where the two meet? Will this joint cause a potential path of least resistance in the future? Or will it be two self-contained units in one location?

6. If the landfill wasn’t expanded and at some point closed, how would that affect the county residents? If waste haulers are willing to haul the waste elsewhere, and larger, more equipped facilities can better sort and process it, why is that not a viable solution?

7. While I agree that we are all responsible for the waste we create, we are also responsible for the earth we protect. The saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is applicable only if there IS a cure. While the prevention Vernon County took in the design of the landfill is admirable, will it matter if it fails anyway, and our groundwater is forever contaminated in a way that has no cure? Do we want to join the communities living on bottled water and facing difficult, if not impossible, cleanup solutions?

This problem has so many facets. It is a society problem (industry, packaging, shipping etc.), a people problem (consumer habits, recycling habits, care and interest, etc.), an environmental problem (burn it, bury it, dump it in the ocean), and a money problem. But Gail is right. It is everyone’s problem. Our waste stream is our problem —our Earth problem. It’s a conversation that must keep going in a way that leads to good, quality solutions for our families and our earthly home.

The following is retired solid-waste director Gail Frie’s response to Lund’s letter: 

I appreciate Cathy’s concerns because they are shared by many citizens. The following are my answers:

1.  The 60-inch compacted clay liner and 10-foot natural clay-based soil are far and above what is necessary to prevent any leaks to the groundwater. The 60-mil plastic liner is additional protection. The mention of a settling basement is the concern of the weight of the garbage causing the collapse of karst bedrock. Fortunately, the hydrogeologist has determined that no karst bedrock or sinkholes are found under or near the Vernon County landfill. Knowing this, would you rather keep your garbage in the landfill that you own, have local control over, and is managed by dedicated employees who live here, or would you send it to a landfill that can pile waste over 1,100 feet deep controlled by a for-profit business? The Vernon County landfill has waste under 70 feet deep.

2. I can’t understand how anyone can compare a welded landfill liner patch with a bike tire patch. The landfill patch is doubled over, air tested, and tear tested to be sure the welded area is stronger than the actual liner. The plastic liner seals itself naturally to the clay liner as if it is glued down. It would take a very sharp object standing vertical to damage this liner. The NR 500 Code requires that a very selective bagged waste of 4 feet is placed on this liner before a landfill compactor is used. I have always placed between 8 and 12 feet of soft garbage on the liner, carefully pushing it forward with a loader. This is very sensitive work, and if anything breaks out of a garbage bag, that bag is removed. We also have an 18-inch filter barrier above the liner when 12 inches is required.

3. With the present-day labs, any possible contamination in a monitoring well will be detected far ahead of the time it would be a problem. There are indicator parameters that would show up far before any serious contamination. We all face risks every day of our lives. The secret is to minimize them to a point so we no longer have to think about them.

4. The landfill business is no different from any large business that invests a lot of money in overhead costs at startup. The Vernon County requires about 15,000 ton a year of income to cover overhead costs and ever-mounting DNR fees. To date, the landfill has operated without the need of any Vernon County tax dollars. If we continue to allow our garbage to be sent to Eau Claire, the shortfall will eventually fall on the taxpayers. Anyone not using our landfill will end up financially supporting and having the liability of two landfills. It takes only a few minutes to check out the environmental compliance record of landfill companies in the USA and Canada to make sure they are not on any Environmental Offenders List.

5.  The expansion will be constructed with the same care and consideration for the environment as the original design. The seam area between the original landfill and the expansion is no different than any other welded seam in normal landfill construction.

6.  Your landfill employees take the large loader out to the landfill every day. Seldom is a day when they do not bring something back that needed special disposal that was not allowed by DNR in a NR 500 Landfill. This can be tires, appliances and many others. Do you think a mega landfill that takes in over 1,000 tons of garbage a day has time to sort or process the waste in any other way than to just compact it?

In early 2021, I got a 30-yard dumpster for a little cleanup on my farm near Fountain City. The invoice was $744.70 for waste that was mainly shingles and ag plastic. That same dumpster in Monroe County using Modern Disposal would have cost me about $300. That is what happens when you do not have a local, not-for-profit landfill.

7. This is just unsubstantiated fear, and what is safer? The 10-acre Vernon County Landfill or a mega landfill with an active area of 79.5 acres? With 35 years of NR 500 landfill operating history including mega landfills showing no signs of potential liners starting to fail and I completely trust our landfill staff to keep liquid off of the liner to remove all risks. When I left the landfill in 2008, we were accepting annually about 20,000 tons of waste from Vernon County, which allowed us to work with municipalities and DNR on cleanups on farms, sawmills and others. If all municipalities, businesses and citizens would direct their waste to the landfill that they own, it would remain self-funded and even have the funds to expand environmental and recycling services that would benefit us all. If disposal services are not convenient and affordable, we will go back to burn barrels and roadside ditch dumping. We all live here and want to leave Vernon County to our children and grandchildren better than we found it. That is what makes this landfill discussion so valuable.