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Landfill 'special event' raises concerns

The SKB Environmental Cloquet landfill (formerly Shamrock) is located on a 42-acre site inside an industrial pit in the Hilltop neighborhood of Cloquet. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com

PLANNING COMMISSION

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When SKB Environmental Cloquet Landfill (formerly Shamrock) requested extended hours for a "special event" last month, City Planner/Zoning Administrator Al Cottingham was a little surprised to learn the event will likely last between four and five months.

Nevertheless, on the advice of city attorney William Helwig, Cottingham approved the request, noting the conditional use permit (CUP) was very vague about what exactly constituted a "special event."

In this case, it is a contract to bring 180,000 (plus or minus 10 percent) tons of contaminated sediment dredged from a Superfund site at the bottom of Chequamegon Bay in Ashland, Wis., into the Cloquet industrial landfill.

To accommodate the volume, SKB officials estimate it will bring up to eight trucks an hour to Cloquet from mid-May through September. The company referred to the "special events" clause in its CUP in a letter to Cottingham March 10 and asked that the trucks be allowed to bring in waste an additional two hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday rather than 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The material will be transported in side-dump trucks, which SKB Cloquet Site Manager Kyle Backstrom said will limit the noise of back-up alarms and tailgates slamming.

Although the public hearing was supposed to be about changing the city code to define "special event" by adding time and geographical limits, Planning Commissioner Jesse Berglund quickly pointed out that he would prefer to see the city change the clause in the landfill permit, not create a definition in the code that would have to apply to any business or permit.

Several residents spoke out against the landfill in general, and suggested time limitations of two to four weeks and geographical limits of 30 miles or simply Carlton County.

"I know two years ago, there was a line of cars bringing in materials to the landfill, all local people, I figured that was a special event," said resident Clarence Badger, advocating for a 30-mile limit and four weeks maximum. "Now we have a situation that's going to last the entire summer and benefit Ashland residents."

SKB President John Domke objected, noting that the city doesn't tell other businesses they can only allow customers from Carlton County. In response, audience member John Badger pointed out that the proposed limitations were only for "special events," not everyday business.

Barb Wyman was on the city council when the landfill was approved after a year and a half of debate and three different votes by the council that ended with a "yes" and a long list of conditions. She pointed out that there are a half-dozen demolition landfills closer to Ashland than Cloquet and expressed worries that the landfill will next bring in waste from the Twin Cities area.

"When we wrote the conditional use permit, we were under the impression that it was going to be a local landfill," Wyman said before talking about how many times she and residents have had to come to city meetings to try to make sure the council and planning commission don't weaken the CUP provisions to the detriment of the neighbors in the Hilltop area and residents of Cloquet. "Enough is enough."

Domke explained that the Cloquet landfill is one of two in the upper Midwest certified by the federal government through its Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to accept government-regulated waste such as the Lake Superior sediment SKB will be bringing in from Ashland this summer. It is the closest certified landfill to Ashland, he said.

"It's an intensive process for the U.S. EPA to look at how you manage stormwater, leachate, environmental history and more to be certified," Backstrom said in a follow-up interview, adding that CERCLA-type events can be very large and require hours "such as those that our competitors have."

"This project is important to our environment as well as our company," Backstrom wrote to the city.

The contaminated sediment will come from a Wisconsin Superfund site, where cleanup aims to restore land and lake bottom sediment contaminated by a manufactured gas plant that operated near the site until the mid-1940s. According to the Ashland Daily Press, during an informational meeting near the 16-acre Chequamegon Bay site last summer, several area residents spoke about a mothball-like odor coming from the wet dredge site. The smell was identified as naphthalene, a constituent of the coal tar waste that forms the pollutant material at the site.

Acknowledging that he had "no horse in the race," Wes Vork spoke about how good the landfill company was during the 2012 flood, when it stayed open extra hours and accepted flood debris from area residents for free.

Cloquet's Karla Southworth requested that if the city decides to talk to SKB about any new information that it also allow residents to comment again.

Cottingham said if the city decides to change the CUP, there will be a new public hearing, likely in June. Commissioner John Sanders suggested striking the words "special event" from the CUP completely, and just leaving in the "emergency conditions" clause that was better defined.

In the end, commissioners voted unanimously to table the resolution Tuesday, pending further legal advice. They will discuss further at the Planning Commission May 9.

A previous request by SKB for changes to its CUP to eliminate a 20 percent cap on paper sludge, extend daily hours until 7 p.m. and allow the landfill to accept paper sludge 24 hours a day is currently in limbo, after the Planning Commission recommended approval in January but the item was pulled from the City Council agenda three times since then.

In other matters Tuesday, Planning Commissioners took the following actions:

• Unanimously approved a variance for Country Club Patio Homes, a planned unit development of 12 single-family townhomes on the northeast corner of Reservation Road and Carlton Avenue West. The homes will be one level, 1,500 square feet each with a patio facing the Cloquet Country Club and a two-car garage. Developer David Chmielewski is asking the city to approve tax increment financing for the project, which would allow him to recoup some of his upfront costs by being reimbursed the difference between the property taxes on the currently undeveloped land and the taxes after development. The Planning Commission also recommended approval of the TIF request. The Cloquet City Council will consider both requests at its May 2 meeting.

• Unanimously approved a site plan for White Pine Apartments, which will be constructed next to the existing Aspen Arms apartment building on 14th Street in Cloquet. The building will include 35 rental units, including six one-bedroom units, 26 with two bedrooms and three units with three bedrooms. Seven of the units will have supportive contracts for people with an illness or mental health issues. The Cloquet City Council should vote on the site plan at its Tuesday, April 18 meeting.

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