- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

CHICAGO - Smelly sludge sewage fields and landfills aren’t the usual stuff of tours in a city that likes to show off its architecture and lakefront parks.

But people are paying $7 to see some of Chicago’s less desirable spots on a “Down in the Dumps” tour of more than a dozen garbage sites including a wastewater treatment plant, a recycling center and landfills.

The nearly three-hour bus tour of the far South Side — where landfills rise like rolling hills — is a chance for residents, environmentalists and visitors to learn more about what happens to garbage once it leaves their trash cans.

“We see it, we smell and we wanted to know what all this is,” said Bill Serckie, who took the tour on a recent weekend with his wife, Patty.

The couple have lived for 18 years near the garbage-filled landfills that dot the area along Interstate 94 near the Illinois-Indiana border, but, like many of the 30 others on the tour, had never driven down the potholed back roads to see them up close.

The tour, conducted twice this summer, will be offered again in the fall. It is organized by the Southeast Environmental Task Force, a conservation group that wants to preserve open space and make sure more landfills don’t appear.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) says the area already has more than a dozen landfills and hazardous-waste sites.

“It’s an area that was once a beautiful wetland, and all that was trashed beginning in the 1940s and 1950s when it became a natural dump site,” said Stan Komperda, an IEPA project manager.

Most of the landfills on the tour no longer accept garbage because of a city moratorium that went into effect in 1984, said Tom Shepherd, the group’s president and tour guide.

Two of the dormant landfills are among the highlights of the tour. One is a grazing area for 64 goats and the other has been turned into a golf course.

The goats are helping to turn the methane-producing, 170-foot landfill into a wildlife habitat.

“The goats ignore prairie plants but eat the weeds, which lets the light in and helps the prairie plants,” Mr. Komperda said.

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