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Salem Township — Arbor Hills Landfill, a long, loud and odorous point of contention for township residents, could get more annoying for locals before it gets better.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality has issued a permit that will allow operator Advanced Disposal Systems to flare gas on the landfill’s northern side. That will allow for 20-foot-high flames at the property over the next 12 months.

While the sight may alarm those in the area, state officials contend allowing the company to burn off gas at the site will help eventually to decrease odors — a problem that led to the filing of a class action lawsuit against Advanced Disposal last year.

“The flares are used to burn off methane gas that’s being produced by the landfill,” said Scott Miller, a DEQ environmental quality manager. “It’s beneficial in capturing and controlling the gas.”

Excess, or fugitive, gas has been an escalating issue in the township for two years. In addition, residents have complained about truck traffic and health concerns.

“Residents should expect to see a flame when the equipment is operating,” Miller said of the flare, which will be 42 feet tall. “While improvements to the gas system continue to be made, further improvements are needed. Until this work is completed, the community may continue to experience landfill gas odor.”

Aida Salari and her family returned to Northville Township three years ago after a few years living in Novi. She was aware the landfill was nearby, but the odors and worries over what’s in the air have only increased since they moved back.

“The odor is just one part of it,” she said. “That can be there one day or not. But we fear this is affecting our children’s health.”

According to DEQ, the amount of methane being captured by Arbor Hills’ gas trapping system dropped significantly in 2015. At that time, the system was operated by Republic Services Inc. while other portions were run by Advanced Disposal.

Federal law requires landfills to capture 75 percent of the gas produced on-site. A failure of Arbor Hills’ system that year is believed to have led to the heightened odors coming off the property.

State officials became aware of the situation early in 2016 and compelled action by Republic that led to the system again capturing 75 percent of the gases. In April, residents filed a lawsuit over the “noxious odors.”

“The case seeks compensation for the nuisance created by the odors and for any negative impact the odors have had on property values,” said the Liddle & Dubin law firm last year. In 2016, the operators of Arbor Hills had proposed an expansion of the landfill but that has been tabled.

Advanced Disposal Systems took over the gas collection system earlier this year and officials hope they can make changes that will eventually bring the situation under control.

“We’re presently in a process of getting to understand the system and making some immediate improvements, such as repairs to some of the well headers,” wrote Joe Kohn, Advanced’s communication and community relations manager, in an email response to questions. “We’re also assessing what it’s going to take to operate and maintain the system effectively in the longer-term.

“We see all these developments as good news. They’ll help us operate the gas control system in a way that’s consistent with our values as a company. This will be important for minimizing instances of odor, and for ensuring that the landfill gas from Arbor Hills is directed efficiently to create energy for the community.”

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