McClellan: Auto repair shop next door to Hades is forced to move

April 9, 2014 By Bill McClellan bmcclellan@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8143 A cap meant to alleviate odors covers Republic Services’ Bridgeton Landfill on Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. Stephanie S. Cordle, scordle@post-dispatch.com

Dan’s Automotive Service is at the end of Boenker Lane.It is where the world ends. Right up against Dan’s place is Hades.

Hades pops up out of the earth and rises like a blister from the soil. A huge hill of waste, a fire simmering underground, radioactive waste somewhere nearby. A heavy-duty tarp has been placed over the hill. Pipes stick out of the tarp. A constant hissing sound is heard as pumps push gas and water out through the pipes. An odor often drifts from the blister.

“It can get rank,” said Dan Rose.

Such is life next to the Bridgeton Landfill.

Not a bad life, actually. Dan’s Automotive Service has been a successful business for years. It has provided a living for Rose, his wife and two full-time mechanics.

But last month, the owners of the landfill gave Rose notice. They need his land for a leachate line, part of a construction project designed to control odors. Rose has to shut his business at the end of this month.

I visited Monday.

The fellow who told me about the auto shop warned me that it would look run-down. It does. Why shouldn’t it? It gets no drive-by traffic. Rose does no advertising. Business comes by word of mouth. Honest, quality work in a bad location. If you don’t mind coming right next to Hades — I mean right next to Hades! — and you don’t expect a fancy waiting room, this could be your repair shop. Rose also does state inspections.

He has worked at this spot since 1970. That’s when Dean’s Automotive Service moved to the site. Rose had been working as a mechanic at Dean’s since graduating from Ritenour High School in 1968. Back in 1970, the landfill was a quarry. A hole in the ground.

He bought the business from Dean in 1984. Dean’s Automotive Service became Dan’s Automotive Service. Rose had a lease.

The years went by. Rose and his wife raised their three children. They employed people. They paid taxes. They did not get rich.

That was fine. Rose had a plan. He’d work until he was 65 or 66, and then he’d sell the business and retire. The sale of the business would provide him with a nest egg, which would be supplemented with Social Security.

Eventually, the quarry became a hill of waste. Then things got messy. In 2010, elevated temperatures were detected in gas extraction wells. Tests revealed a “subsurface smoldering event.” Laypeople call it an underground fire. Technically, it is not a traditional fire, but a chemical reaction that produces high temperatures.

The underground fire, or subsurface smoldering event, was headed toward the radioactive waste in the nearby West Lake Landfill. Last year, the attorney general said the fire was 1,000 feet from that waste.

Estimates were that the smoldering event would reach the radioactive waste in one to three years. Then a “landfill expert” told St. Louis Public Radio that if the chemical reaction consumed enough material to cause a hole underground, the landfill could cave in and the smoldering event could reach the surface as a real fire and spread more quickly.

What I mean is, there was no good news.

Rose figured his time was limited. He was not surprised to get the heave-ho.

It was, as these things go, a gentle heave-ho. He was given a $10,000 termination payment that was not part of any agreement. His lease was the last of several to be terminated.

Still, he is now 64. He will have no business to sell. Unless he can find a place to move — and it will be hard to match the $800 monthly rent he was paying — he will probably have to sell his equipment at auction. Then he will have to look for work himself, or retire a little earlier than he had planned.

Republic Services, the Arizona firm that owns both the Bridgeton Landfill and the West Lake Landfill, is Rose’s landlord and has been since it bought his property in 2008.

Republic spokesman Richard Callow said, “We are sad to see Dan’s have to go. We think we’ve treated them fairly. We really wish it weren’t necessary to do anything. But, we are, as we have said repeatedly, committed to getting the odor from the subsurface smolder under control. And the leachate conveyance line that will be built on the site is an important component of that.”

Callow added that Dan’s Automotive Service used to repair facility vehicles and was a favorite of the local manager.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.