The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken the lead in fighting a landfill fire that has been burning for weeks in St. Clair County.
Gov. Kay Ivey issued a limited state of emergency Wednesday for the fire that began in November. The declaration gave St. Clair County officials all possible legal avenues to use to combat the fire.
“This event poses extraordinary conditions of disaster and of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within St. Clair County, and it is anticipated that these conditions, by reason of their magnitude, are, or are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment, and facilities of any single county, city and county, or city, and will require combined force to combat,” she said.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management said the EPA will now be able to take the lead on the operation. ADEM began collaborating early on with the EPA, the St. Clair County Commission and other local and state authorities about the appropriate course of action to take to extinguish the fire and eliminate the smoke that has raised concerns among area residents, the state agency said.
From the beginning of the fire, ADEM has made extinguishing it a top priority, the agency said. But the underground fire poses extreme hazards to firefighters and other responders due to the risks of cave-ins and flare-ups, and the volume of vegetative matter that has been buried at the site over the years.
“Neither ADEM nor the county has the experience or expertise to put out a fire of this nature,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said. “The EPA utilizes contractors with experience and knowledge to do this type of work. ADEM and state and local officials have concluded the most effective and safe way to extinguish the fire is for the EPA to lead the effort, and we have entered into an arrangement with the EPA to make that happen.”
Ivey said bringing the EPA on board will help hasten the end to the situation.
“By authorizing the EPA to respond to this fire, we are ensuring it will be addressed in the fastest and safest way possible,” she said. “It is imperative that this situation be solved and solved right for the sake of the folks in Moody and all people affected by this fire.
“I am pleased at this next step, and to ensure we are doing everything possible from the state level, I am also issuing a limited state of emergency for St. Clair County to give local officials another layer of support as they deal with this fire.”
St. Clair County Commission President Stan Bateman said the county is ready to help bring relief to the residents.
“We stand ready to assist the EPA in whatever manner we can,” County Commission President Stan Batemon said. “The most important thing is putting the fire out as fast as possible and bringing relief to residents in communities being affected by the smoke. The county is limited in what it can do.
“The EPA is clearly in the best position with its knowhow and resources to handle the fire. We believe this is a major step forward in identifying the best solution and taking action.”
Part of the declaration states:
“This event poses extraordinary conditions of disaster and of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within St. Clair County, and it is anticipated that these conditions, by reason of their magnitude, are, or are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment, and facilities of any single county, city and county, or city, and will require combined force to combat.”
It is not known at this point how long it will take to put out the fire, or who ultimately will be responsible for paying the EPA’s costs, ADEM said. The EPA is expected to seek recovery costs from the private operator of the site.
Once the fire is out, ADEM said it will take appropriate enforcement actions against the operator. Such actions could involve penalties for impacts to air quality and open burning violations.
The full declaration can be viewed here:
Austen Shipley is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News.