Bridger Creek Subdivision Near Landfill

The Bridger Creek subdivision is seen on Wednesday, Oct. 15, in Bozeman. City commissioners are having a public hearing for the continuation of the landfill vapor intrusion study at the Bridger Creek subdivision.

Homeowners adjacent to Bozeman's Story Mill Landfill have filed suit against the city, seeking unspecified damages for what they argue is the city's negligence in allowing "a cocktail of toxic chemicals" to migrate onto their properties from an unlined dump site that accepted municipal waste between 1969 and 1995.

The suit's plaintiffs allege in a complaint filed Tuesday in Gallatin County District Court that the city has been aware of "dangerous leaching of chemicals from the landfill" since 1988, but approved the development of the Bridger Creek Phase 3 subdivision regardless and failed to notify residents of health risks until the summer of 2013.

Through their attorneys, the residents also argue that the contamination has permanently impacted their property values.

"It's not a surprise," City Manager Chris Kukulski said Tuesday afternoon, saying that plaintiffs had previously provided notice of their intent to file the lawsuit. In part because of the threat of a lawsuit, city leaders in recent years have consistently named addressing the landfill situation as their top priority.

Kukulski declined to respond to specific points made in Tuesday's filing, saying he hadn't yet had a chance to review it.

The city previously offered in-house solutions targeting the homeowners. Similar to a radon removal system, the mitigation systems use a vacuum technique that sucks up gases percolating from underneath a home's slab and vent them outside.

City engineers are also seeking state regulators' approval for a plan to install a system of treatment wells to address contamination seeping out of the landfill.

"Unbeknownst to plaintiffs, their homes acted as catchments for the (volatile organic compounds’) off-gassing from the poisoned groundwater," attorneys wrote, naming tetrachlorothene, trichloroethene, vinyl chloride and dichloromethane as specific chemicals of concern.

"Elevated VOC levels have been identified in the indoor air in plaintiffs' homes. … The city has made no substantial efforts to stem the flow of toxic chemicals," they also claim.

The old landfill's unlined dump site, located several hundred feet northeast of the phase 3 subdivision, spans about 32 acres and is filled with about 110 feet in waste capped by approximately 4 feet of soil, according to a report by Tetra Tech, an engineering firm working for the city. A second, lined site north of the homes accepted waste from 1995 until the landfill's closure in 2008.

After several VOCs were detected at concerning levels near the unlined site during sampling in 1994 and 1995, the city installed a landfill gas extraction system to vent methane and other gases so they can be burned in a flare. It is thought that toxic chemicals in gases escaping from the landfill can cause contamination by diffusing into groundwater, which generally flows south or southeast from the landfill site.

Despite the need for a fix in the mid-1990s, the suit accuses the city of approving the development "as if there were no danger from the toxic plume flowing from the landfill," the complaint argues. Homes on the northern side of the subdivision are within several hundred feet of the closed landfill.

The suit's named plaintiffs, represented by Western Justice Associates and Dodd Law Firm, are William and Katherine Beebe, Judith Slate, Thomas and June Russell, Carl Erik and Diane Steckmest, Robert and Kathleen Vanuka, Tobias and Carrie McClaughry, Christina Bauer and Kurt Benson, Donald and Patricia Cherry and Ben Burda and Molly Johnson. All live or own property along Turnberry Court or St. Andrews Drive in Phase 3 of the Bridger Creek subdivision.


Eric Dietrich covers city government and health for the Chronicle.

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