MONTICELLO — Area lawmakers are hoping to pass a bill this spring that would allow any area county to block the disposal of hazardous wastes at a landfill in DeWitt County.
The legislators — state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana; Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet; and Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth — hope to amend an existing bill and expedite the legislative process before the General Assembly adjourns in seven weeks.
"We've got to get this bill passed quickly because I do have concern if the EPA issues this permit, and (the landfill owner) starts going forward, then you run into a legal question. So time is of the essence," Rose said. "If we get this done before, then they'd have to go to the other counties."
Several area governments and politicians have expressed concerns about a chemical waste storage unit proposed for the Clinton landfill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to allow the disposal of PCB-contaminated material at the site, which is located over the Mahomet Aquifer, the vast underground water source for dozens of central Illinois communities.
Frerichs said Senate staffers are hoping to amend the legislation onto a so-called vehicle bill so it can be considered this spring.
"It's certainly possible. It's not the traditional way a bill would get passed, but I think that something of this magnitude and importance — a drinking water source that supports a million people — I think it can happen," Frerichs said.
"I think we ought to be able to get votes from around the state just because of the importance of a large aquifer. There are people on the north side of Chicago who may not be directly affected but who care about the environment," Frerichs said. "But I think the strongest support will probably come from the legislators who represent constituents who live above the aquifer and get their water from the aquifer."
Rose said the legislation as drafted would allow any county over the aquifer to stop the disposal of hazardous wastes.
"Current Illinois law gives the county the landfill is situated in the authority to site. The problem is with that being over the aquifer, that leaves hundreds of thousands of people out of that discussion with no elected representation in that final vote for siting," Rose explained. "The legislation as drafted would give all the other counties over that landfill essentially the same siting authority."
Rose said he discussed the proposed legislation with Piatt County State's Attorney Dana Rhoades, who said her constituents had expressed concerns about the landfill.
"And as a citizen of Piatt County, I've got my own concerns, basically allowing for representation of all the people who are affected by the landfill and who use the aquifer," she said.
"If my drinking water source is threatened," added Frerichs, "then I ought to have some say in that."
Rose said he believes lawmakers throughout central Illinois will support the legislation.
"This is one of the reasons we have a decent chance of getting this done, because we can branch out beyond the four of us today who are involved in this ... and go to Peoria and these other places to get co-sponsors," Rose said.