More than a quarter century after making headlines across Ohio, a long-closed Portage County landfill has been capped.
“I’m thankful for the action, and it’s certainly good news,” said neighbor Ivan Horner, who once led a grass-roots group concerned about the Portage Landfill in Rootstown Township. “It’s taken a long, long time. ... I can’t believe it has taken 25 years.”
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency directed the $1 million project to properly cap the Portage Landfill and Development Co. property off Tallmadge Road (County Road 18) near the Rootstown-Brimfield township line.
Work began in the summer and was completed in late October, EPA spokesman Mike Settles said.
Contractor CTI and Associates of Wixom, Mich., used nearly 100,000 cubic yards of clay and topsoil to construct a cap over the landfill that sits on 200 acres. The cap is 18 to 24 inches thick above a layer of rock.
The cap also covered a closed adjoining landfill for construction and demolition debris. It will keep rain and snow from getting into decaying trash and picking up contaminants.
The contractor also constructed runoff drainage channels and put in place other controls to prevent leachate, or landfill liquids, from running into nearby Breakneck Creek, a Cuyahoga River tributary. Disturbed areas were seeded, and a security gate was installed.
Portage Landfill made headlines across Ohio in 1986 and 1987 as it took in hundreds of thousands of tons of out-of-state trash. Trucks from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania lined up to get into the landfill.
That scene provided the impetus for Ohio to toughen its waste-disposal laws.
The Portage County Health Department fought extensive legal battles with the landfill. In 1987, after its operators were accused of accepting three times the amount of garbage permitted and polluting the stream, the state ordered the landfill to close.
Ohio sued in Portage County Common Pleas Court, charging the landfill and its operators with 21 violations of state environmental laws. Finally, in 1998, a negotiated agreement and court order were filed.
Officials said Waldo Sober Jr. and John Hoffman Jr. were co-owners of the landfill and that East Coast trash broker David Ehrlich was a financial partner.
Sober, of Rootstown Township, agreed to pay $14,779 into a cleanup fund. He also agreed to provide 100,000 cubic yards of dirt for the cap and to pay $150 a month for the rest of his life into the fund. He is still paying that fee, officials said.
Ehrlich and his Franklintown Financial Corp. of Philadelphia agreed to pay $25,000 into the state-managed Portage Landfill Trust Fund.
Hoffman, of Langhorn, Pa., was to pay remaining costs, including methane collection and groundwater monitoring wells. He has failed to abide by the terms of the agreement, the state said, and legal action is pending.
No money from the Portage Landfill Trust Fund went into the capping project, Settles said. About $80,000 remains in the fund for continued maintenance.
The Ohio EPA provided $1 million for the capping from its Environmental Protection Remediation Fund that deals with “orphaned” landfills — where the owner is unknown or unable to pay for needed repairs — that pose a threat to public health and the environment.
Money in that fund comes largely from EPA enforcement actions.
Getting the cap done was delayed, in part, because the 1998 agreement failed to spell out terms, Settles said.
He said the remedy also was delayed because of extensive negotiations between Sober and the owner of an adjacent property with a sand-and-gravel operation for the topsoil and clay.
Getting the landfill capped is “a major step,” said DeWayne Porter, head of the Portage County Health Department. “It’s absolutely good news, and neighbors will be much more comfortable with the site.”
He said his agency has continued to test nearby residential water wells, and no problems have been found.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.