11 Investigates: Neighbors furious at local, state officials for lack of action on controversial landfill

Sunny Farms landfill

SENECA COUNTY (WTOL) - An 11 Investigation has found some neighbors in Fostoria and the surrounding communities are furious at local and state officials for what they say is a lack of action on foul odors at Sunny Farms Landfill.

Some local residents say it seems as though every oversight agency pushes the blame elsewhere.

They've reached out to the City of Fostoria who said it is not their jurisdiction. The Seneca County General Health District said the landfill is complying with its regulations. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said out-of-state trash legally can't be regulated.

Simply put; the folks who smell the blight and breathe the air are wondering if and when their living conditions will become livable.

The Frisch family moved into a Fostoria house nearly two years ago in April 2017. All was good, until it wasn't.

"We thought, you know, maybe it was something with the drains, sewer, we weren't really sure,” Nikki Frisch said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think it was the landfill."

Frisch is talking about a putrid odor that seeped into her family’s home through the sewer system, which shows just how far-reaching the problem became. The Frischs live about 3.5 miles from Sunny Farms Landfill.

There’s no tangible way to portray the odor without smelling it for yourself, but multiple neighbors tell WTOL it can quite literally take your breath away, even at the most inconvenient of times.

“It always seemed to be like two, three in the morning,” Frisch said. “We would just get hit and be like, ‘oh no,’ and we’d run around, we’d open every single window.”

"At the time I didn’t have lots of friends over because I was like, worried about that,” nine-year-old Evi Frisch said about the odor.

It turns out, the Frisch family isn’t alone. Not by a long shot.

In a public forum in Tiffin last week, hundreds of neighbors came forward to ask questions and share concerns about Sunny Farms with county and state officials.

But instead of answers, neighbors feel they've gotten the run-around. For example, a question many folks had at this meeting: can we eliminate the out-of-state waste coming to Sunny Farms? The answer wasn't popular.

It turns out, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1978 case, Philadelphia v. New Jersey, that waste material is considered commerce, and the Dormant Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution doesn't allow interstate waste to be regulated on a local or state level.

Boiled down; the Ohio EPA can’t legally tell Sunny Farms to stop taking in trash from other states.

For residents like Nate Heiser, that's a load of garbage.

“They all say it’s out of their hands and I find that unacceptable,” Heiser said. “There’s got to be limits you can put on these corporations that just bring in these massive amounts of waste at all the residents’ expense. It’s not fair. Somebody has to do something. They’re the Environmental Protection Agency, protect the environment. They’re the health department, protect our health, protect our well-being. We need those agencies to stand up for us.”

Ben Nutter is with Sunny Farms. He gave WTOL an exclusive tour of the landfill, explaining the facility installed gas treatment equipment that he said will clean up the hydrogen sulfide being emitted from the soil, and in turn, eventually subdue the odor.

"We know and we're confident that the systems that we're putting in place are the right systems and will do the job and will correct this temporary issue,” Nutter said. “So if people still have questions, and I'm sure many will, we'll continue to answer them and we'll continue to prove to the community through monitoring and through community outreach, you know, what we're doing to make sure that we don't end up in this situation again."

While the Ohio EPA provides Sunny Farms with its operational permit, the Seneca County General Health District is responsible for the landfill’s license. Beth Schweitzer has been health commissioner since 2014. She said the permit and license are different, but she incorrectly said the EPA has the final say. The county health district, in fact, can deny Sunny Farms its license. Sunny Farms could then appeal, but if the appeal is denied, Sunny Farms would not be allowed to operate, according to the EPA.

As far as the residents Schweitzer represents, she said there's a legitimate argument to be had regarding the landfill’s operation down the road.

“I think there’s enough public outcry that we are looking, that’s why we’re looking at it so critically right now,” Schweitzer said. “I think any public outcry is something we want to be concerned about.”

Back with Nikki and family, they’ll continue on with their daily lives, hoping they’ll soon be able to stop and smell the roses, rather than the garbage.

"I'm not necessarily saying shut them down, but that they need to figure out a way to clean up their act,” Nikki Frisch said.

The nine-member Seneca County Board of Health is scheduled to meet Thursday February 28 to vote on renewing Sunny Farms’ license. It’s unclear at this point which way that vote will go.

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