Burns Calls Alderman on Carpet for Leak of Methane Gas Story

Mayor underlines that there is no threat to public safety.

Maybe you could call it the leak about the leak.

There was a curious moment at the end of Monday night's City Council meeting, under the category of "new business," when Mayor Kevin Burns politely chastised an unnamed alderman for letting the media know about the possible spread of methane gas outside the footprint of the former Settler's Hill Landfill.

"Somebody on this dais forwarded this," Burns said. "The staff was caught off guard because the media received information. I wanted to bring that to everyone’s attention."

Burns reminded aldermen of the pledges they made when they took office and discussions they had during retreats. He added that elected officials' relationships require trust and "should be built on mutual respect."

"I felt it was important to bring that up," he said.

The mayor later added that the alderman had given out information that was not for sharing and included the cell phone numbers for Fire Chief Steve Olson and the deputy fire chief.

The in public session on Monday night and issued a summary report on the city's website. You can read the full Batavia report here.

"As part of an ongoing investigation, Waste Management is coordinating with the cities of Batavia and Geneva and Kane County in an effort to detect and monitor methane levels in and around the Midway and Settler’s Hill landfills," says the update posted Dec. 19. "Earlier this month, Waste Management reported that its ongoing monitoring detected methane gas deep underground outside of waste areas but within the landfill complex.

"Since then, more than 200 other tests have been conducted at 22 other locations that included underground utilities in Batavia’s Highlands community. No methane has been found."

The Geneva City Council did not discuss the matter Monday night. Its only mention was Burns' comment under new busuiness.

After the meeting, Burns underlined that there is no threat to public safety.

"Not at all," he said. "There's absolutely nothing to be concerned about whatsoever. Again, it's a standard monitoring process. But when they add new monitoring sites, we always want to know about it. That's Waste Management's responsibility, (and it has done) exactly that. We've been well informed about exactly what's going on, and we feel it's important to share that information, as well.

"The information is going to be posted on our website, probably as early as tomorrow (Dec. 21), as soon as we have some additional information, so that we have a clear picture: 'If you see activity happening, it's because we're putting in a new site, just for additional monitoring.' "

He also assured residents that Waste Management and Kane County officials have kept a close eye on the methane gas levels at the now-closed landfill.

"This is a constant and contiuous monitoring process that has gone on for years," he said. "We receive regular updates from Waste Management and the county. Those updates are provided usually via conference calls, what have you, with the appropriate parties and constituencies. 

"We received information that we thought was important to relay to our council in light of the fact that Batavia was going to discuss the issue in public. So our information was simply an FYI, as we did weeks ago, as we've done for years and will continue to do."

Rod Nelson December 22, 2011 at 02:36 AM
Few will remember, but I warned back then about potetntial lethal methane leaks. Indeed I documented episodes of lethal methane explosions near leaking landfills elsewhere. Drive down Fabyan Parkway and behold the giant methane flare from Settlers Hill. Where is the flare from the adjacent unlined Midway Landfill? Unlike Settlers Hill, Midway was not designed with a liner and was not designed to capture methane. There has been some attempt at mitigation, but it was basically a hole in ground at the County Poor Farm. Underground leachate and gas plumes can easily pass undetected between the widely spaced monitoring wells. Methane is just one of several perils. Vinyl chloride, a universally accepted human carcinogen, has been found in monitoring wells at the local site. I find it chillingly reminiscent of the dark old days when I read that Mayor Burns chastised a Geneva alderman who did the right and open thing. Cudos to the Batavia Mayor and City Council who acted promptly, openly, and in the public interest by bringing the the methane issue public. I agree that there is no cause for panic about the methane. A serious concern must be raised about the ability of Mr. Burns to be County Board Chariman. He seems to come from the old school that favored secrecy, slush funds and cover ups. Has the City performed its own studies? Are we relying on Waste Management, a company with a checkered past? What would qualify Burns to know the seriousness of the problem?
Terry Flanagan December 22, 2011 at 06:08 AM
Rod, I remember reading your extensive research back in the days when we were fighting against expansion of the landfill. After reading about evacuations in other communities affected by methane leaks from old landfills not designed to prevent such leaks, I think that we need to work with Batavia and the county to monitor the situation. We should not rely solely on Waste Management, as you so rightly warn us against. I am also concerned that the Mayor decided to reproach the aldermen for the leak to the press. Granted that some personal information was given out that should have been redacted, but the rest of the information should have been released. I still cannot find any information on the Geneva web site about this. Apparently the Mayor is in favor of open government only when it suits him. The Mayor's statement that staff was caught "off guard" implies that either staff was completely unaware of the problem or that they did not have time to prepare a statement. Since the first reported leak was Dec. 2nd, according to the Daily Herald, it hardly seems likely that staff was not aware of the problem. Providing honest, timely answers does not require preparation. It only requires a truthful explanation of the facts as one knows them. In my experience, prepared statements are often more misleading than straight answers. And the Mayor's handling of the situation ought to raise concerns about his leadership at both the city and potentially the county level.
Rod Nelson December 22, 2011 at 11:43 AM
This is a good primer on landfill gas from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landfill_gas One of the many problems with the Kane County Poor Farm site (which contains the more modern and euphemistically named "Settles Hill" and the much older "Midway" is that it was not scientifically chosen. It was a parcel of property with no protection from those pesky nimbys. The residents of the poor farm, the jail, and the girls school hardly were in a position to protect their immediate surroundings. Midway was a hole in the ground dump of convenience that existed prior to segregation of the municipal and industiral waste streams. We really don't know what it contains. Rocket science is 1000+ years old. Landfill science is about 50 years old. Both can fail catastrophically, though rocket failure is spectacular. Landfill failure is usually subtle but lethal all the same. I am always amazed when these revelations start with reassurances that there is "no danger." Of course there is a danger, else why bother to even monitor? Fukushima comes to mind. It was perfectly safe until it wasn't. Fukushima is a "Mark I" reactor designed in the 70's. In the reactor analogy, Midway Landfill is akin to Chernobyl . Settler's Hill, designed in the early 80's, is more akin to a Mark I. We are stuck with these disastrously sited landfills which tower a few hunderd yards from the County's only surface source of potable water, the Fox River, and right on top of both the deep and shallow aquafers.
Jim Skaar December 22, 2011 at 05:21 PM
"Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe." Abraham Lincoln
Terry Flanagan December 23, 2011 at 04:24 AM
The city has now provided additional information on the methane leak in its regular email bulletin. If you are not subscribed to the bulletin, you may read it here http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=dnpd6pcab&v=001GqPuXdeqXXAwERrDer1NbegD822jtO5DMN-_MqdU8cQSDXkhauF6-_rM8VxosKMIC5IgXM0lxc3R0qjbZc_yrqlO6s6AHqq5Q8HqIKmgtuY%3D


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