RIVERDALE, Ill. — In a small suburb just outside of Chicago’s city limits, a dispute over trash pickup has given way to a yearslong legal fight.
The village of Riverdale — population 10,000 — sits across the Little Calumet River from the city’s southern border. Since 1995, it’s been home to Tri-State Disposal, a waste management company that has accused Mayor Lawrence Jackson — whose home was reportedly raided last week by the FBI — of “stacking the deck” to allow another waste transfer station to open up nearby.
In 1999, four years after Tri-State opened at 13903 S. Ashland Ave., the company was found to be in violation of various environmental ordinances and, as part of a settlement, agreed to pay the village of Riverdale a monthly host benefit fee and post a $50,000 bond.
Thirteen years later, Tri-State entered into a contract with the village wherein Tri-State would provide garbage pickup for residents of one and two-unit homes until August 2019. Tri-State executives have testified that the contract was worth between $60,000 and $65,000 each month. Beyond normal trash pickup, Tri-State also agreed to conduct a yearly spring clean-up for village residents and also pick up residents’ Christmas trees at no extra charge.
Records from the Illinois State Board of Elections show that, between 2013 and 2017, Tri-State contributed $4,750 to Jackson’s political campaign committee.
However, in 2017, Riverdale announced it would consider an application submitted by another company to open a new recycling and transfer facility less than a mile away from Tri-State’s.
The proposed site at 1201 W. 138th St. was previously a garbage dump that was ordered closed by the Illinois Appellate Court in 1962. Tri-State alleges that the new company, Riverdale Materials, initially applied to open up as a waste transfer station — like Tri-State — but deleted that request from its application after Tri-State protested.
Additionally, Tri-State alleges, Riverdale Materials began operating at the site while their application was still pending and after “representatives from Riverdale Materials made material misrepresentations of fact.”
“The site remains an unremediated, unlined hazardous waste landfill,” Tri-State wrote in a court filing in September 2020.
According to its website, Riverdale Materials sells dirt, sand, gravel and other materials while also serving as “a transfer facility able to recycle a variety of materials including dirt, concrete, brick, and asphalt, allowing [customers] to keep up with the best practices in the industry.”
In October 2017, Jackson wrote Tri-State to tell the company that Riverdale “was contemplating alternate garbage service providers” — a decision that, according to Riverdale’s attorneys, was based on the village’s tight budget.
Tri-State alleges that Jackson fired the chairperson of Riverdale’s Zoning Board of Appeals and then “loaded” the board “with persons politically connected to the mayor” before Riverdale Materials’ application was approved in November 2017.
“The proceedings were a mere sham for the will of the Jackson administration, and did not include any provisions to protect the public health and safety, to require Riverdale Materials to post any security, or to require Riverdale Materials to pay royalties,” Tri-State alleges.
Soon after the Riverdale Materials application was approved, Tri-State issued public statements critical of the decision and Jackson’s administration.
In March 2018, Riverdale told Tri-State that the company’s contract with the village would not be renewed. The village ultimately selected Flood Brothers as its trash pickup provider.
“The motion to terminate the Village’s agreement with Tri-State and subsequent decision to retain Flood Brothers on a no-bid contract were made in retaliation for Plaintiff’s free speech and because Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, and was not as a result of any alleged complaint against Tri-State for failure to perform its obligations under the contract,” Tri-State wrote in a September 2020 court filing.
Attorneys for Riverdale deny Tri-State’s allegations — some of which have already been dismissed by a federal judge.
“The Village is confident that the remaining counts of the complaint will be dismissed pursuant to the summary judgment motion, just as numerous other counts have previously been dismissed as baseless,” John Wise, one of the attorneys representing Jackson and Riverdale said in an emailed statement.
The lawsuit is still pending in federal court in Chicago. The next hearing is scheduled for July 12.