Landfill reduxThe Cloquet City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to reconsider a landfill conditional use permit in light of additional information provided by the applicant, Dem-Con Companies, as well as the proposed new conditions. To hear the entire council meeting (which was not broadcast on CAT-7) click on the audio recording attached to this story.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Dem-Con Companies’ Bill Keegan finally took off the gloves at Tuesday night’s Cloquet City Council meeting. After offering a number of concessions and new conditions for the proposed industrial landfill voted down by the council Sept. 14, Keegan brought up the possibility of legal action against the city for the first time in four months of relatively intense negotiations with the city.
“I want to close by saying that we were forced to retain legal counsel after that last meeting because this project is extremely important to us,” Keegan told Mayor Bruce Ahlgren and the full council at the start of the meeting. “We are being told that we have a very strong case based on the permit that the city and Carlton County and the MPCA have issued. In fact, I’m being told that we can go operate the facility under the current [conditional use permit, which has] no conditions whatsoever, and is currently permitted for municipal solid waste at 3.5 million cubic yards.
“That is a road we have an option of going down. I don’t want to go down that road. I want to work with this community and operate under conditions.”
After conducting the meeting’s scheduled business – which included passing a resolution detailing reasons four council members previously voted “no” on the landfill – the council voted unanimously to reconsider the landfill proposal in light of additional information provided by Dem-Con as well as the proposed new conditions. Those conditions include greater financial assurances: “a host fund that – 20 years after closure – will be $2 to $4 million, in the city funds,” as well as shorter operating hours and an easement for the city if a frontage road to the Interstate 35 exit on Highway 45 is built in the next 30 years.
Dem-Con also offered even more proof that water quality and quantity to neighboring residential wells will not be affected by the landfill. That proof came in the form of a new Barr Engineering hydrogeologic evaluation as well as a new statistical model on 107 area wells that declared it a “statistical impossibility” for water to flow toward the neighboring homes or for the landfill to affect the water levels in those wells.
That conclusion came as no surprise to Mayor Ahlgren, who said after the meeting that he was concerned that residents were blaming a future landfill for current water problems.
“[That site] was a landfill and a pit,” Ahlgren said. “It was there yesterday, it is there today and it will be there tomorrow ... no matter what happens.”
In all, Dem-Con sent 20 different documents to city staff and elected officials in the 24 hours leading up to the council meeting.
“There’s no stone left unturned,” Keegan said Wednesday. “We went through the meeting transcript (from Sept. 21) and addressed every comment.”
Prior to voting to reconsider, council members asked a number of questions about the legality of their previous vote as well as what could happen if the issue goes to court.
“While I don’t like being threatened by litigation, it’s out there and it does influence my willingness to reconsider,” said Councilor David Bjerkness.
City Attorney Frank Yetka said the council voted previously based on the information it had at the time, but added there’s been considerable new information submitted since then, so a motion to reconsider the conditional use permit could come from any council member.
In the end, the motion came from Councilor Neil Nemmers, who also added a motion to allow the city a 60-day extension to reconsider the conditional use permit. The council also set a date of Nov. 3 to address the modified proposal publicly.
“Here we go again,” said a somewhat disgusted Jesse Wick after the meeting.
Wick was one of several neighborhood residents in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting, and a major voice against the landfill at the Sept. 21 meeting. Resident Clarence Badger was also in the audience Tuesday. Badger wasn’t surprised to see the landfill issue resurface; in fact, he expected it.
“That’s the way it works,” he said. “I am happy the council didn’t come back and vote on the same issue. The next meeting is only 30 days away – I just hope it’s an open meeting.”
In the meantime, City Community Development Director Holly Butcher will be preparing – yet another – staff report on the issue.
“I will be working with all entities to pull together a staff report that details what was proposed, what’s being added and what is the legal framework,” Butcher explained the day after the meeting.
One thing she’ll certainly investigate is Keegan’s claim that the site is permitted for 3.5 million cubic yards of municipal solid waste (household garbage). Keegan says the site was specifically permitted for household, industrial and hazardous waste in the 1970s, first in a 1971 conditional use permit agreement between Ulland Brothers and Carlton County, then again in 1975 when the city annexed Knife Falls Township and continued the option of a sanitary landfill on the site.
Butcher noted that the term “sanitary landfill” was the term used for all landfills prior to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was passed in 1976, which set new standards for landfills, the same way that the Clean Air Act set federal standards for air.
“It’s a tough decision, because there’s a lot of emotion behind the word ‘landfill,’” said Ahlgren after the meeting.
To hear the entire council meeting (which was not broadcast on CAT-7) click on the audio recording attached to this story.