Vyskytná - End of an untidy landfill

11.3.2013 - Výskytná

The municipality Vyskytná nad Jihlavou has only slightly more than seven hundred inhabitants. They, as well as their neighbours from villages in the vicinity, were bothered by a municipal waste landfill, operated by the company .A.S.A. for years. This company – one of the biggest companies engaged in the waste management field in the Czech Republic – did not pay attention to compliance with regulations. Releases of poisonous water were taking place from the landfill into the forest, offensive smell and litter were spreading into the surroundings, rodents multiplied excessively. As if it was not enough, the company .A.S.A. announced a plan for the landfill expansion in 2007. After that, the local people lost their patience, established a citizens association, and started to protect their rights.

Vyskytná is surrounded by forests of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands – one of the most picturesque regions of the Czech Republic. It is located not far from the urban conservation area of the town of Jihlava, the centre of the Region, founded in the 13th century near important silver mines. The village would be an ideal place for living, if a landfill was not located close to it. In 1999, operation of the landfill was taken over by the company .A.S.A. Dačice. This was a beginning of a series of protracted problems. Long‑term non-compliance with the operation rules, which are bounding and have to be approved by authorities, completely deprived the people in the surrounding villages of the idyll of living in beautiful nature.

Because of non-compliance with the regulations, strong smell began to spread from the landfill. It bothered inhabitants of four villages in the vicinity. The employees reduced their work, as well as costs, by non-covering sides of the landfill by soil. Because of that, high amount of litter was flying away from the site. The litter literally wrapped trees in a close forest, and filled a nearby stream. Because of the mess, rodents multiplied excessively in the vicinity of the landfill. Under the landfill body, drainage pipes were installed originally. They should transport clean underground water out of the landfill site. However people noticed that foul-smelling water was discharged from the pipes, forming dark spots on the surface of a nearby stream.

Finally, Vyskytná inhabitants lost their patience. For the long eight years, the Municipal Authority assured people, in response to many complaints, that landfilling would end in 2007, because it was the end of validity of the issued permissions. Subsequently, the landfill should be closed down. Soon, however, people were informed by the media that the very opposite was true. According to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) documents, published by the Regional Authority, the company .A.S.A. should expand the landfill and operate it till 2015. Annually, further 20 thousand tonnes of waste should be deposited in the landfill. People realised that they would have to fight against lack of discipline of the company for many further years, and decided not to surrender any more.

People lost their patiencePhoto: Archive/o.s. Zvony 2007Vyskytna 03

In 2007, people from Vyskytná contacted the environmental organisation Arnika, offering the citizens free legal and expert assistance. Arnika helped them to prepare a plan of a long-term campaign, and informed the media. Thus, politicians had to start dealing with one of the biggest problems of the region, and it became a public affair.

At first, the local people prepared a petition „Říp Hill in Vyskytná for a Better Life?“. It compared the waste heap in Vyskytná to the holy hill Říp where, according to the legend, the patriarch Czech settled and, thus, established the homeland of the Western Slavs. The petition required increase of securing of the landfill, reduction of smell, end of releases of polluted water, and cleaning up the vicinity of the landfill. Within only two weeks, about seven hundred signatures were collected among inhabitants of the affected municipalities. Already in the spring, citizens association Zvony 2007 (Bells 2007) was established.

The Mayor of Vyskytná did not want to solve the problem. He only sent the petition, handed over to him by the inhabitants, to the management of the company .A.S.A. Thus, people contacted the Czech Environmental Inspectorate. Subsequently, the inspectors were up to their elbows in work for several months. At first, they discovered an unsecured tank, from which dark foul-smelling water was discharged directly into a forest stream, instead of being transported into a wastewater treatment plant for safe disposal. Then, they concentrated on litter flying far from the landfill site. Whereas, according to the operation rules, the landfill should be compacted and covered by soil, the company .A.S.A. only piled the litter up. Because of these transgressions, fines in the order of thousands EUR were imposed on the company.

In the summer of 2007, a fire broke out in the landfill site that had to be extinguished by firemen from the regional capital Jihlava. In that time, the landfill body was formed mostly by plastics, including PVC. Through burning of such material, hazardous toxic substances, such as dioxins and hydrogen chloride, may be released into the air. Thick black smoke stretched over a distance of several kilometres, up to the neighbouring municipality Plandry.

Intimidations did not work

The company .A.S.A. responded to the increased interest of the public by intimidating the petition signatories, and by a leaflet campaign emphasising financial benefits of the landfill for the municipality. Subsequently, the company resorted to filing a report of the commission of a crime against the chairwoman of the citizens association Zvony 2007, Darina Cermakova, and against an Arnika's employee, for impairment of the company's reputation. However, the Police Department in Jihlava rejected the report as unsubstantiated.

However, these attempts to intimidate and influence public opinion in the municipality did not stop the local people, and they continued in their efforts to improve the state of the landfill. On the contrary, representatives of the association Zvony 2007 filed a report of the commission of a crime against the Mayor of the municipality Vyskytná, who handed over copies of the petition documents to the company .A.S.A., and, thus, violated the Act on Protection of Personal Data. This transgression was not found to be a crime, but, nevertheless, the Office for Personal Data Protection imposed a fine on the municipality because of violation of the law.

Landfill in a national park

Vyskytna 04

Photo: Archive/o.s. Zvony 2007

Still in the same year, the association Zvony 2007, the Arnika Association, and many individual citizens, participated in the EIA process. According to the Czech legislation, carrying out of the EIA process is obligatory before issuance of permission for a landfill operation, and the process is governed by the regional authority. In the process, various alternatives are assessed, as well as the overall impact of the planned activity on the environment and human health. Each citizen may express his/her opinions and position.

In the comments to the EIA documents, people warned about regional values, in addition to non‑compliance with the operation rules. In that year, surroundings of Vyskytná were included into the proposal of the National Park Plandry that should protect the landscape character. The new landfill would occupy arable land of the highest quality. Moreover, archaeologists found remains of a miner fort built in the 13th century, when silver was mined in the region, in the locality. There was a danger that the unique finding, declared a cultural monument, would be in a close proximity of a waste heap.

The municipality lost money

In December 2008, the Regional Authority issued its statement, awaited for a long time. It agreed to the landfill expansion, however, it set 52 conditions that had to be observed by the company. Citizens succeeded in putting through the requirements of planting a belt of trees and bushes between the landfill and the municipality, containment of landfill gases instead of their releases into the air, and regular monitoring of underground water quality. The Regional Authority also ordered establishment of a control commission, where the municipality and the citizens association would be represented.

In 2008, the Parliament of the Czech Republic amended the Act on Waste, changing the beneficiary of the obligatory financial compensations. From that moment on, money for deposition of waste should be distributed between the region and the State Environmental Fund of the Czech Republic. Thus, the municipality would not get any money. This was the end of the argument of financial benefit of the landfill for the municipality, and of the last remains of benevolence of the municipality representatives to the irresponsible landfill.

Order would make the landfill too expensive

Vyskytna 01

Photo: Archive/o.s. Zvony 2007

Before construction of a new landfill, the company should have closed down the original one, and plant trees on it. The Control Commission supervised observance of the correct procedures. Whereas the citizens, acquainted in detail with obligations of the company during landfill reclamation, strictly required compliance with all the specified conditions, the company .A.S.A. used the argument of "unnecessary costs", and tried to reduce some measures, or not to carry them at all.

It became obvious that the landfill in Vyskytná was profitable only due to the fact that the company .A.S.A. did not observe the operation regulations, and violated conditions set by the legislation. However, thanks to the Control Commission, this way of operation would not be possible after the landfill expansion. When the company .A.S.A. realised how higher costs would be connected with its business, it abandoned the project and announced the end of its activities in Vyskytná nad Jihlavou. Nowadays, waste is not transported to the landfill anymore. The giant heap, where 144 thousand tonnes of waste were deposited during the years of the landfill operation, was gradually recultivated by the company.

The citizens association Zvony 2007 did not cease to exist after this success. Instead of fighting against the landfill, the association organises meetings at the Saint Antonin chapel, and voluntary work in nature, it reconstructs damaged crucifixes in the landscape, conciliation stones, and wayside shrines overgrown by shrubs, plants trees, takes care of a spring, and organises art workshops, Christmas trade, and amusing afternoons for children. An active community, participating in everyday life of the municipality, and improving its environment, was formed in Vyskytná, where people almost did not know each other a few years ago.

For a long term, the local citizens drew attention to non-compliance with the operation regulations. However, they had the possibility to try to put through some limiting conditions and compensation measures only in the process of EIA (environmental impact assessment), concerning the landfill expansion. A crucial thing is to take care of these conditions being adopted in the subsequent decision‑making processes where permission for an industrial activity is issued.

15 darina cermakova skladka vyskytna

„In those times I expected naively that if the landfill operation showed such fundamental faults, it would be sufficient to inform about this situation and rectification would be arranged. I did not assume that I would spend several years of life with this case. However, community is growing through conflicts, and our citizens association Zvony 2007 was established, and is still active, in spite of all the complications. I am glad that the landfill does not drain our energy any more, and we may occupy ourselves with much more pleasurable activities.”

Darina Cermakova, PR adviser of the College of Polytechnics Jihlava

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