To the Editor:
As a resident of the Hilltop neighborhood in Cloquet, I was surprised to learn that a huge industrial landfill was being proposed in the Ulland gravel pit. I was aware that a small construction landfill had been operating in the pit which had been poorly managed by the city and MPCA, and was finally closed. If the city couldn’t administer this small landfill, I wondered how they could handle one that is much larger and more dangerous.
My concern grew as I learned that the MPCA has decided to issue a permit for this project and that the city zoning ordinance would allow it with a conditional use permit. Something must be wrong with our rules and standards if they do not prevent a landfill from being located in a residential neighborhood, near a community college, next to athletic fields, adjacent to an interstate highway, connected by groundwater to the nearby St. Louis River, and placed in gravel soil just above the water table that supplies the wells of the neighborhood!
This landfill will be allowed to collect 3.5 million cubic yards of industrial waste in an area over 40 acres in size. The waste would come from local industries and as far away as the Twin Cities. The developer will be required to place a clay soil and plastic liner beneath the landfill to protect the groundwater. As rainwater seeps through the landfill the toxic leachate is collected in a pit beneath the landfill, pumped out, and hauled away for treatment. The developer claims that this technology is tested and safe. However, it has only been around for 20 years. No one knows if the liners will leak in 50 or 100 years, long after the developer has gone. Test wells must be located in just the right place to detect a leak. Once discovered, leaks are very difficult to repair. The solution is to drill many wells around the leak and pump the polluted groundwater out. This could lower the water table and impact water levels in neighboring wells.
Although groundwater is the main concern, industrial landfills also cause noise and air pollution, odor problems, litter, visual impacts, and traffic congestion. It prevents the land from ever being used for anything other than open space or recreation in the future.
Common sense, responsible zoning regulations and careful watershed management all argue strongly against placing a landfill in the Hilltop neighborhood. As citizens of Cloquet, we are dependent upon our elected and city officials to make sound land use decisions. They are there to make the right decisions, not the easy ones. Concerns about a lawsuit from the developers or jobs must be balanced against the potential for damage to the property values, environment and health of citizens. While the landfill can be put in a better location, the neighborhood and college cannot move. We will soon find out whose rights are more important to the mayor and city council.
Rich Staffon, Cloquet