Citizens organize objections, action plan against proposed landfillClose to 30 area residents gathered in the community room at Evergreen Knoll in Cloquet to brainstorm and strategize for one final push against a proposed industrial landfill permit set for a vote at the Cloquet City Council meeting Feb. 15.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Close to 30 area residents gathered in the community room at Evergreen Knoll in Cloquet to brainstorm and strategize for one final push against a proposed industrial landfill permit set for a vote at the Cloquet City Council meeting Feb. 15.
When councilors vote on the conditional use permit for the landfill – which would lie on land south of Interstate 35, between Highway 45 and 14th Street in Cloquet – it will be the third time the council has voted on the landfill permit.
While the permittee, Shamrock Environmental LLC (of which DemCon Companies of Shakopee is a partner), is certainly hoping the old “third time’s a charm” adage will play in their favor this time, a core group of residents is determined to keep the door shut on the proposal, which would not only increase the size of the current landfill from 332,000 to just over 3.5 million cubic yards, it would also change the landfill type from a Class I Demolition landfill to an Industrial landfill, which can accept construction debris and waste as well as industrial waste.
It was a nearly two-hour meeting that included a little of everything: organization efforts, grumbling about elected officials, talks from elected officials, possible strategies, applause and a fair amount of anger directed at the previously mentioned city officials as well as DemCon Companies, the MPCA and the media.
Clarence Badger, who has spearheaded efforts opposing the landfill, started the meeting with a brief history lesson of the Hilltop neighborhood as he knows it from living and building homes there, its gravel pits and water worries.
Such neighborhood concerns, according to Badger, have been ignored by city officials for decades.
“The residents who depended on the city to protect them and their homes felt they were being let down and the gravel pits just continued to operate as they had,” he said.
Badger then brought the audience up to date with a quick synopsis of the eight months of city meetings and negotiations concerning the proposed landfill, concluding with the second vote Dec. 21.
“The meeting came to such an abrupt end, we felt we’d missed an opportunity to conclude this once and for all,” he said.
His son, John Badger, also spoke.
“I can’t fathom – if we’re looking to grow an economic base that’s going to be permanent – why we’d take the piece of property we have in town, along the freeway where most people, commercial interests, want to locate, why we would take that out of production forever,” he said, referring to the fact that land reclaimed from a landfill can’t be built upon, although it can be used for parks, golf courses, trails, etc.
Cloquet City Councilors Barb Wyman and Dave Manderfeld attended the meeting, as did Carlton County Commissioners Dick Brenner and Bob Olean. Wyman was well known to the residents gathered there for her opposition to the landfill. Manderfeld introduced himself as the new councilor representing that part of the city.
He advised the group that they needed to fact-check the information they pass it on to others so they wouldn’t ruin their credibility. He also said he could use their help with the landfill debate.
“If you guys have new ideas or new comments that actually can change the law, instead of just an opinion, contact me,” he said. “Everyone can have an opinion, but there’s only one true set of facts. We have to be able to use those facts, massage those facts and use them in our favor.”
His emphasis on factual arguments was echoed by Brenner, who spoke with the voice of experience.
“We went through this on a burning of contaminated soil at a pit down in Moose Lake,” Brenner told the gathering. “We denied the permit. We got sued and we lost in court. The reason we lost in court – and the judge’s opinion was very clear – was simply that we can’t rule on people’s emotions about not liking something. You have to have solid facts that say there’s going to be damage in some way to the environment or property values and anything else that would be negative. If you can’t prove that, can’t substantiate that, it’s very tough for a judge to rule against it.”
Bill Keegan, DemCon vice president and engineer, also attended the meeting but spoke very little, and only when questions were addressed to him directly. After the second question, he noted that the atmosphere at the meeting was “hostile” and that he was there to see if any new concerns were raised.
“We feel that everything that was brought up has been addressed over the last nine months,” he said the morning after the meeting.
Residents may have left the meeting with a more positive assessment of their efforts. There are plans under way to put together a list of city and state elected officials to phone about the issue, as well a talking points sheet for residents to use in a calling campaign.
If it comes to a legal battle, they had some ideas about that too.
Jesse Wick suggested a class action lawsuit based on property values. Steve Johnson wondered if any state or national environmental groups would advise the group on legal actions to take. Ginger McKean gathered names and contact information so they could act together, as a group.
“Can we tell the schools, too?” asked a high school student from the back of the room.