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DEQ, EPA approve controversial waste disposal well at Wexford County Landfill

Morgan Springer
American Waste can now dispose of contaminated water underground at the Wexford County Landfill.

A landfill in northern Michigan will be allowed to inject contaminated water thousands of feet underground.

 After years of delay, The Environmental Protection Agency approved the well permit last week, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality followed suit Monday.

The deep injection well allows American Waste – one of the largest trash collectors in northern Michigan – to dispose of leachate on site. Leachate is water that has filtered through landfill trash and is considered non-hazardous waste. The company had previously been trucking the liquid off-site to be treated. 

Many residents came out against the proposal because they were worried about the contaminated water polluting their drinking water. Local governments – like the City of Cadillac and Wexford County – also opposed the well.

Rita McNamara says the permit approval has left her feeling frustrated and hopeless.

“When you organize your entire community to stand up ... and it means nothing. Then where is the representation for the people?” says McNamara, who lives near the landfill.

Hal Fitch – director of the DEQ’s Oil, Gas and Minerals Division – says that’s their job.

“We are dedicated to protecting the environment, protecting the rights of the local citizens and the landowners in the vicinity,” says Fitch.

He says they took public input into account, but they didn’t hear any comments that lead them to believe the well would be unsafe.

Residents have 30 days to file an appeal with the EPA. Information about the DEQ’s appeal process was not readily available, but McNamara says she has contacted an attorney about filing an appeal. 

The EPA’s permit goes into effect November 12.

Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.