Just days after the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency shuttered a controversial Ford Heights landfill, a Cook County Circuit Court judge on Friday ordered the seal lifted.
In response to a joint emergency motion filed on behalf of the Lincoln Ltd. landfill and the Village of Ford Heights, Judge Thomas Quinn restricted the agency from enforcing the seal order.
Environmental inspectors had visited the site on the orders of Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Monday morning, and closed it later that day.
The judge's ruling essentially means the agency cannot impede anyone from entering the site or conducting business there while the issue goes through the regular channels of litigation.
The agency had issued citations in the past against the Ford Heights dump site and another in nearby Bloom Township operated by the same person, John Einoder of Orland Park. Einoder also has been facing felony charges and a civil suit stemming from the landfills' operations.
"While the seal order has been lifted, we still intend to prosecute the violations at this site to the full extent," agency spokeswoman Anne Rowan said.
The agency referred its case against the facility to the state attorney general's office in 2003 after the owner failed to comply with earlier citations regarding operating the site without a general waste permit and allowing debris to pile above grade level.
By last count, the landfill had reached a height of 73 feet. The volume of waste reportedly had grown from 432,000 cubic yards in October of 2002, to about 4.8 million in August of 2004.
Opponents of the landfill, who just days ago breathed a sigh of relief when it was shut down, were stunned by the court order.
"That just doesn't make sense," said Robert Chancellor, a Lynwood resident who has been staunchly fighting to have the site closed. "How can you keep reopening something when it's already considered illegal?"
Chancellor, who said a primary concern is that nobody seems to know exactly what has been dumped at the site, said the landfill opponents have no plans to give up.
Ford Heights Mayor Saul Beck praised the decision to lift the seal order, saying the site provided economic development opportunities and sorely needed revenue to one of the poorest communities in the nation.
Aside from revenue the village receives through tipping fees, the landfill eventually was supposed to be converted into a ski slope.
"We're trying to plan some recreation with some economic development," Beck said, adding, "Every time we get something, there's something wrong with it."