Subscribe for $3 for three months

UPDATED at 5:15 p.m. with court testimony and comments and noting correct title of judge.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • The Bridgeton Landfill has agreed to pay $16 million to settle a 2013 lawsuit by the Missouri Attorney General’s office that claimed a “subsurface reaction” was harming the health of nearby residents.

Under the terms of the agreement, landfill owners will pay $12.5 million into the Bridgeton Landfill Community Project Fund. The money could be used only as “compensation and restitution” to communities within a four-mile radius of the now-shuttered landfill and to pay for environmental cleanups “explicitly authorized by Missouri law.”

The money cannot be used to buy out homeowners, for lawsuits or lobbying or to reimburse any damages or losses, the agreement says.

The money is supposed to be spent within four years, and will be administered by the St. Louis Community Foundation. The settlement did not specify what uses would be approved.

The settlement also includes a $1 million civil penalty that will go to a St. Louis County school fund, $500,000 that will be used to restore public properties and $2 million to reimburse some of the costs of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, according to court testimony.

The agreement also contains financial assurances to ensure that the landfill, or Republic Services, which assumed ownership of the landfill after it merged with Allied Waste in 2008, will continue to fund the ongoing, extensive environmental remediation and monitoring.

St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Michael Jamison, who approved the settlement Friday, called it a “very good attempt” to resolve the “multitude of issues,” adding that “there is no perfect settlement.”

Karen Nickel and Dawn Chapman of the Just Moms STL activist group wiped away tears in court after talking to Jamison before the public portion of the hearing began, and after Jamison signed the agreement.

Nickel called it “bittersweet,” saying “It is time to move forward.”

Chapman, who was shaking when she spoke to a reporter outside of the courtroom, said the agreement “is locking (the landfill) down on quite a few things,” referring to the remediation and monitoring provisions.

In court, Deputy Attorney General Ryan Bangert called the $16 million “an incredibly large amount” for similar cases.

William Beck, a lawyer for the landfill, called it “fair, reasonable and adequate.” He said that the work that has been done at the landfill was “the most work I’ve ever heard of on the face of the planet,” as well as “the most monitoring.”

Beck said the landfill has spent more than $242 million to control odors and for environmental remediation and site improvement costs, as well as about $6.4 million to pay 1,092 individual claims against the landfill.

Among those improvements are a special cap to contain odors, other odor control equipment and equipment to monitor and contain gas and liquid that the landfill produces. The landfill has also installed systems that monitor and cool a “subsurface smoldering event,” or reaction caused by rapid decomposition, that was first detected in 2010 and is expected to continue for five to six more years.

Much of that work sprang out of a prior agreement between the landfill and the Attorney General’s office.

In a statement, the landfill called the site an “industry model” and said the landfill “team has chosen to do the right thing for our community at every step.”

The Bridgeton Landfill and the adjacent West Lake site have sparked lawsuits and protests for years, including fears sparked by the improper disposal of radioactive waste in West Lake. Neighbors and regulators have also repeatedly raised concerns about whether the smoldering would reach that radioactive waste and spread it through the air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that airborne outcome was unlikely.

The lawsuit was filed by then Attorney General Chris Koster in March 2013 to address the underground reaction and other issues, Bangert said, adding, “The landfill was in bad shape.”

Robert Patrick is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.