Reusing closed landfills, like Settler's Hill in Geneva, is tricky business.
Options are limited because of EPA rules about what can and can't be done with the land, and restrictions against anything that would puncture the membrane covering the garbage or disrupt the operation that utilizes the methane coming from decomposing waste.
The Kane County Forest Preserve District, which partners with Waste Management in operating Settler's Hill, has opted to use parts of the property for sports facilities. Since the landfill closed, the district has improved an existing ice arena in the area and built a golf course and a minor league baseball stadium. In keeping with that theme, district officials now want to build a $3.88 million cross-country course.
After more than three years of discussion and study, the EPA-approved project is expected to begin this fall, thanks to a creative public-private partnership that could benefit local school sports programs and save taxpayers money on construction costs. It's a proposal the full county board would be wise to support when it comes up for a vote in coming weeks.
At the heart of the plan is dirt -- tons of it needed to build the course. But instead of spending an estimated $250,000 to buy soil, the county in 2013 pitched an idea to use Settler's Hill as a temporary collection point for trucks to dump unwanted clean fill from local construction work. The plan was to charge a competitive rate at a more convenient dumping location for contractors.
With engineering and permitting finally in place, a county board committee last week gave preliminary approval for a contract with Aurora-based Heartland Recycling LLC to do just that. Heartland will pay the county $1.25 per cubic yard dumped at the landfill. The cross-country track needs at least 250,000 cubic yards -- more than half a billion pounds -- of clean soil to pile on top of what is at the site.
The county will use dirt recycling money and funds in a $6 million account dedicated to redevelop Settler's Hill to build the course, which could be ready for use in 2019.
Who benefits? It should be an attractive option for nearby high school and college cross-country teams because the unique layout ringing the landfill would allow spectators to watch the entire race seated from above. It also would come with ample parking at the landfill.
There is not universal support. Many people, including several candidates in the April election, oppose the idea because they believe all forest preserve land should be for passive natural uses. Some said such a course will have limited appeal.
But we see the proposal as a complementary use at Settler's Hill active sports site. It also could attract cross-country meets now held in nearby forest preserves and lessen the active use of those locations. That sounds like a win for the county.