A Bloomington company wants to end the trash hauling monopoly in the Twin Cities
Local governments in McLean County spend more than $1 million a year on waste. Literally.
McLean County produces about 200,000 tons of waste of every year. All that trash we produce has to go somewhere and — since 2018 there's nowhere in McLean County to put it. It takes a lot of money to take the trash elsewhere.
Another trash hauling company is looking to get into the market, a move it says could lower costs for local governments by providing competition.
The McLean County Landfill closed more than three years ago when it reached capacity. Since then, Republic Services, a company based in Phoenix, Ariz., takes the trash from its waste transfer station on Bloomington's west side and hauls it to the landfill it owns in Pontiac. Republic Services handles most the municipal waste disposal in McLean County, and it's the only company that has a waste transfer station in the county.
Peoria Area Disposal, which was recently acquired by Canada-based GFL Environmental, serves some smaller municipalities in the county. It takes its trash to landfills in Clinton and Hopedale.
A year ago, another waste removal company asked county and state regulators if it could build a transfer center to haul waste. Henson Disposal of Bloomington handles construction and demolition waste, and wants to build a transfer station off Trilakes Road in south Bloomington to handle municipal waste.
“It matches our goals as a company to grow and we have the space on our property,” said Rob Fazzini, a business consultant for Henson Disposal.
Henson applied for site approval in late 2020, but later withdrew the request after it got push back from Republic. Attorneys for Republic cited what they called two “fatal flaws” with Henson's application.
In a letter to McLean County Board Chair John McIntyre and McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp that WGLT obtained through a Freedom of Information request, Republic said Henson's five-acre waste transfer station site would be within 1,000 feet of a residential area. Republic claims Henson defines the site too narrowly to comply with Illinois Pollution Control Board rules.
“The proposed WTS (waste transfer station) does not meet this location standard and we believe cannot properly be permitted by the IEPA (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency) — since permits are issued for the entire area of the operations of any facility — and local siting needs to be consistent with the area that will need to be permitted,” attorney Claire Manning wrote in March 2021.
Republic also argued Henson did not give notice to all nearby property owners of its plans.
Henson Disposal later withdrew its application to McLean County before it got a hearing. The county returned the company's $125,000 filing fee.
Rob Fazzini with Henson didn't specifically address Republic's complaints, but said Henson will submit a revised application for a waste transfer site this year. “Whatever we pointed out that we thought was valid is what we’ve worked on to make sure we correct, to that when we do reapply, we will have covered what the weaknesses might have been” Fazzini said.
McLean County's solid waste coordinator is Michael Brown, executive director of the Ecology Action Center (EAC) in Normal. Brown said he didn't find any problems with the application when he reviewed it. Republic seems to suggest Brown is trying to tip the scales in Henson's favor. “We understand that EAC’s administrator has publicly voiced support for the application,” the Republic letter said.
Brown didn't comment to WGLT on Republic's claim, but he may be in an awkward position. Brown can't advocate for any particular project such as the one Henson submitted, but he's also in charge of carrying out the county's 20-year solid waste master plan. That plan involved extensive public input and was approved by local governments.
Brown noted the plan calls for the county to find a second waste transfer site to potentially lower waste costs for local governments.
“It’s most of the residential waste for our entire county goes through that contract,” Brown said. “So the fact that there is no viable competition really begs the question are we really paying an appropriate rate for that waste disposal.”
Bloomington and Normal have a two-year contract with Republic for trash removal. The contract automatically renews annually through 2028, unless the city or town opt out. Republic was the only company that bid for the contract.
Republic charges $56.29 per ton and a $35 hourly rate for staff. Bloomington has $976,000 budgeted for Republic's trash removal. Normal plans to spend $538,000 this year. McLean County government's bill is much lower, about $30,000. That covers trash removal from county-owned property, including the Law and Justice Center and the McLean County nursing home.
Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason said he considers what Republic charges to be fair, but said he would welcome a new player in the solid waste market, especially a local company. “We try to strike a balance with buying local, using union (workers) if that fits into what we are exploring to purchase and always trying to find ways to save money,” Gleason said.
Brown with the EAC said as much as the county would benefit from having a second transfer site, there's a potential downside. He said if waste removal becomes cheaper, he's concerned people will waste more. “I do have to play multiple sides here in terms of what’s actually best for the community,” he said.
Fazzini with Henson Disposal said what's best for the community is more competition. “If two transfer stations help make the pricing more competitive, and the city (of Bloomington) and the town of Normal benefit, then that means you and I as citizens benefit,” he said.
Henson, of course, also would benefit if it gets a permit. The plan would need approval from the McLean County Board and state regulators.
Republic Services did not respond to multiple requests for comment.