westlake landfill

Who Says There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

Aerial view of West Lake and Bridgeton Landfills. Photo © Stella Maris Productions

Aerial view of West Lake and Bridgeton Landfills. Photo © Stella Maris Productions

A former DNR official has lost his appetite for politics as usual in Missouri.

Between 2012 and January 2014, Dan Norris put up with the stench from the Bridgeton Landfill. It was part of his job. The then-environmental specialist for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources was living out of a suitcase at a hotel near Interstate 270 and St. Charles Rock Road much of that time, while directing air monitoring efforts for the state at the troubled Bridgeton Landfill.

The experience allowed him to understand the conditions that many people in North St. Louis County have endured for years. Since 2010, an underground fire has been burning at the landfill, which is directly next to the radioactively contaminated West Lake Landfill. During his tenure, Norris also gained insight into why the landfill continues to smolder. At the top of his list is politics, and the inability of the DNR to resist the influence of special interests.

After submitting his resignation, Norris released a letter on January 10 condemning his former agency for its “cozy” relationship with Republic Services, the owner of the landfill.
“For a while in 2012-2013, the landfill owner(s) referred to themselves and DNR staff involved with the landfill as “Team Bridgeton,” wrote Norris.

lunch-menu

The overall camaraderie is evident in emails obtained by StlReporter. Government regulators and company officials refer to each other by their first names in the messages, and permits were issued in a cavalier manner. The atmosphere went beyond mere cooperative collegiality. In advance of a meeting with landfill owners in December 2012,  DNR official Brenda Ardrey, acting as a virtual waitress, emailed various public officials a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop menu and asked for their orders. “Republic Services has agreed to pick up the tab for lunch,” she wrote. It’s unclear whether Ardrey received any tips, but the state does pay her more $53,000 a year, according to the Missouri Blue Book.

Norris’ relationship, however, appears to have been less hospitality oriented. His signature appears on a July 23, 2012 notice that cited Republic with seven violations, including burning waste in a manner that is detrimental to the health and safety or employees and others.

Notice of Violation, July 23, 2012

Notice of Violation, July 23, 2012

Since then matters have only gotten worse. After radioactive material was found to be near the path of a proposed barrier to stop the subsurface fire from advancing, Republic put the skids on the project, and DNR has done nothing to speed up the process.

“The area involved in the smoldering has increased in size since the start of the event, there is still no solid isolation plan, groundwater continues to be contaminated, and soil gas migration continues to pose a potential risk to nearby structures,” wrote Norris.

Attempts to reach Norris by phone and email failed. Arbrey referred a request for information to the department’s public affairs officer, who was said to be in a meeting and unavailable for comment.  For its part, Republic Services has made numerous public pronouncements that there are no safety problems with the landfill.

Meanwhile, the fire burns on.  — C.D. Stelzer

Update: for a response from former DNR Environmental Specialist Dan Norris, click here.