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Development of Peoria County's next landfill is at a full stop, halted by a forgotten mine

Collin Schopp
This geologic survey shows the location of the Black Jewel Mine No. 2, a small gray outline and black dot at the middle of the map, in the middle of the total footprint of Landfill Three.

After the completion of a siting and permitting process that started way back in 2009, the Peoria City/County Landfill Commission, GFL Environmental and Foth Engineering were set to finally begin moving dirt for the upcoming Landfill Three earlier this year.

The new landfill would serve as a replacement to the adjacent Landfill Two, which is rapidly reaching maximum capacity. But at an April meeting between Foth, GFL and the State of Illinois about remediating other mines in the area, state officials raised questions about a previously unmentioned mine. Illinois Department of Natural Resources surveys from 2013 showed the Black Jewel Mine No. 2 directly below the site of the new landfill.

“I think at that point, it was sort of a eureka moment,” said Landfill Commission Chairman Stephen Morris. “Everyone said: ‘What do you mean, what about this mine?’ Because nobody was aware of this. Some state people were aware of this, but none of the GFL people or the landfill committee or Foth were aware of this potential mine.”

Morris says “potential” because it’s yet to be determined exactly where and how large the mine is, but he says Foth Engineering’s opinion is that the mine does exist. Geological surveys like the one provided by IDNR aren’t exact, usually determining locations within margins of plus or minus several hundred feet.

“What we do know is that between 1939 and 1945, there was something known as the Black Jewel Mine No. 2 that was operated in this general footprint,” he said. “And so it was not detected by any of the borings that were done as part of the siting process. And so GFL was unaware of it. I believe the IEPA was unaware of it.”

Building a landfill over the mine without doing the work to determine exactly how large it is poses a number of risks. Chief among them is a collapse. If the mine collapsed under the weight of tons and tons of compacted trash, the detritus could damage the high tech liners which prevent contaminants from leaching into groundwater.

Morris says meetings are ongoing between the city, county, GFL and the State of Illinois to decide who is responsible to do the work of mapping out the mine and determine the best path forward. There are methods to “remediate” mines of smaller size, including injecting a grout-like slurry to fill the void.

Whoever does the work, Morris says it will for sure take months, and possibly years.

As a result, all work on Landfill Three is at a complete stop. The adjacent Landfill Two is expected to be full by late 2024 or early 2025, with the contracts between GFL and Peoria County and the City of Peoria calling for an immediate switch to Landfill Three at that time.

Morris says there’s no way that still happens.

“That doesn't mean we're going to have trash backing up in the streets,” said Morris “It doesn't mean that we don’t have options."

One of those options is the use of “transfer stations.” These locations provide a place to store compacted trash temporarily before shipping it to another landfill. Morris says there are possible transfer stations sited in the surrounding area, and the nearby Indian Creek Landfill outside of Hopedale.

As for what this means for Peoria residents, changes will probably be very minimal. Morris says the new contract negotiated between the City of Peoria and GFL for waste disposal will reduce costs to the city at Landfill Three or a transfer station, but it’s up to the council if those savings will be passed on to residents.

For now, Morris says the commission is waiting to see if there’s a solution so Landfill Three can move forward in the currently sited area. He says there are other potential areas for landfills in the county.

“Everyone that lives around this [Landfill 2], they know they live around a landfill, they've lived around a landfill for 65 years. This is nothing new to them,” said Morris. “So the suggestion that maybe you're gonna build in an entirely different location, now, you've got to deal with the not just the siting for the State of Illinois, not just all the other requirements, but you got to deal with the notion that you have, you know, this sort of concept of ‘not in my backyard. I don't want to live next to a landfill.’”

It remains to be seen whether the delayed discovery of Black Jewel Mine No. 2 means a few years' delay on Landfill Three, or restarting a project more than a decade in the making.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.