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By Danny Hakim, New York Times
SUMPTER TOWNSHIP, Mich., 15 January 2003--The "toot, toot, toot" that Johnnie Pickett, 75, hears every morning starts around 4 or 5 a.m.
The sound of the horns lets him know the daily convoy from Canada has begun. Since the first of the year, 130 trucks have been arriving one after the other every day, bringing all of Toronto's trash to this rural town just south of Detroit.
"That's the first thing I hear in the morning," said Mr. Pickett, a retired maintenance worker from Detroit, leaning against a case of Old Milwaukee at a convenience store. Then there are the days when the wind blows the wrong way — toward his house about two miles from the dump.
"It's so disgusting we don't even talk about it," he said. "Why can't they keep their garbage over there?"
Trash has migrated from Toronto to this three-stoplight town for years. Until this month, Sumpter shared the load with another Detroit-area landfill and one in Vaughan, Ontario. But when the Ontario site was closed, Toronto signed a new agreement with Republic Services, the owner of the landfill here, and the number of trucks that come here has almost quadrupled .
The landfill, Carleton Farms, will be getting about 1.2 million tons of trash a year. The added trash is likely to be enough to move Michigan to second place among states that import trash, up from third, ahead of Virginia and behind Pennsylvania.
This is a ranking that many local politicians and the new governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, prefer to do without. Ms. Granholm, a Democrat and a native of Canada, said in her campaign that she wanted to limit the number of landfills. And in recent weeks, the growing resentment has been reflected in the local newspapers. Stories about a Champagne party in Vaughan to celebrate that town's emancipation from Toronto trash helped fuel the anger.
But little can be done. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the movement of trash across the border is little different from the interstate movement of trash, which courts have ruled is protected by the Constitution's interstate commerce clause.
One way out, Mary Dettloff, a spokeswoman for the governor, said, may be a suggestion by some environmental groups that the Toronto trash meet the same standards required of Michigan trash. Unlike Toronto, Ms. Dettloff said, "we compost all yard clippings and we have a mandatory bottle and can law here."
Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, plans to reintroduce two bills in Congress on the issue. One would seek to enforce a treaty that requires notification and consent for waste shipments between the United States and Canada. Another would let states and localities limit the amount of waste they accept.
Will Flower, a spokesman for Republic Services, said, "Toronto waste has been coming across the border, and U.S. waste has been going north, for 10 or 15 years."
Angelos Bacopoulos, Toronto's chief of solid waste management, likened his city's trash problem to New York's, and said Toronto had spent tens of millions of dollars in a fruitless search for a landfill to replace the one it operated in Vaughan. The city's trash budget will triple this year, Mr. Bacopoulos said.
"I've been to every corner of Ontario, including places where people have thrown snowballs at me," he said. "We finally decided to get out of the business and contract it out."
There is money in trash — for Sumpter, for Republic and even for Bill Gates, Microsoft's co-founder and Republic's largest shareholder.
For Mr. Gates, trash has been a good hedge in a bear market. Since the beginning of 2000, while Microsoft stock has fallen 52 percent, Republic stock has gone up 45 percent. Another high-profile shareholder is Wayne Huizenga, the Miami Dolphins owner and one of the founders of Republic, which was started in the mid-1990's. Mr. Huizenga was Republic's chairman until last month.
Some residents say Sumpter does not get nearly enough for its trouble — from $2 million to $3 million of the $39 million Toronto will pay to Republic annually. (Republic will split more than half of that with the haulers.) But Elmer Parraghi, the town's administrator, said: "It's 35 to 40 percent of the budget. You pull 35 to 40 percent out of the budget and what do you have left?"
Waste Management, the landfill's previous owner, had a big contract to take Detroit's garbage, but shifted it to another local landfill when it sold Carleton Farms. But it is the influx of Canadian trash that is causing resentment.
A small group of opponents in nearby Dexter, the Network of Waste Activists Stopping Trash Exports, also known as No Waste, has even rewritten the Elvis Presley hit "Return to Sender" on its Web site.
Canadians are not sympathetic. In 2001, Michigan sent Canada 53,000 tons of hazardous waste, while only 4,000 tons of hazardous waste came the other way.
"We in Ontario are receiving your toxic waste," said a Canadian in a posting on No Waste's message board. "Given a choice, frankly, I'd prefer the garbage."
Sumpter, crisscrossed by dirt roads, has about 12,000 residents spread over 37 square miles. On the outskirts, near the dump, a brightly painted sign proclaims the town has "Country living at its finest."
The bulging, snowcapped hill at the Carleton Farms landfill here could be mistaken for a sledder's paradise. Except for the smell. And the trucks.
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