Third time lucky for landfill owners, but not for neighboring residents in CloquetA 5-2 vote approving a conditional use permit for an industrial landfill in Cloquet at Tuesday’s Cloquet City Council meeting reversed two previous votes by the city council and came after eight months of fierce debate within the community.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Cloquet City Council members and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren voted Tuesday to approve a conditional use permit for an industrial landfill within city limits – on a site currently home to several gravel pits and an inactive landfill, but which lies just over 1,000 yards from the Hilltop soccer fields and the neighborhoods that lie beyond those fields.
The 5-2 vote at Tuesday’s City Council meeting reversed two previous votes by the city council – Sept. 21 and Dec. 21 of last year – and came after eight months of fierce debate within the community. The now-approved Shamrock Environmental LLC merchant industrial landfill will be built in 5-acre cells on 42 acres of a 59-acre site adjacent to Interstate-35 in Cloquet. The landfill site lies within a 260-acre area between 14th Street and Highway 45 that is currently occupied by the existing landfill (a grassy mound at the moment) plus several gravel pits and a lumber storage yard.
Part of the reason the location appealed to the applicant, Shamrock Environmental LLC, was because of the existence of an existing landfill on the site, spokesperson Bill Keegan told residents early in the process.
However, the proposed landfill will be permitted for 10 times the waste – 3.5 million cubic yards versus 335,000 – and will accept more types of industrial waste than what was previously allowed at the existing construction and demolition landfill.
For the people living in the neighborhoods near the proposed landfill site, it was a fight worth having. Once awakened to the magnitude of the project, they packed the council chambers every time the planning commission or city council discussed or voted on the topic, and peppered city officials and the newspaper with letters and calls about the proposed landfill. They worried about water quantity and quality in their wells, noise, dust, vermin, air quality and more, forming their own non-profit group as well as a Facebook page.
On the other side, officials from DemCon Companies of Shakopee (who were the voice and face of the landfill company Shamrock Environmental LLC) were equally diligent, responding in writing to every resident letter and concern listed by council members. Not only did the company reimburse the city for the cost of hiring an expert consultant to help draft strong conditions for the permit, it submitted a number of expert reports rebutting other concerns. They also came back with additional concessions after each negative vote.
By the end, there were more than 20 conditions attached to the permit approved Tuesday night.
“I’m glad they made some concessions, because it was the right thing to do,” said resident spokesman Frank McKean after the meeting. “But the City Council stopped short of eliminating one of the big concerns – using paper sludge as a cover – which will attract vermin like rats that like rotting things.”
DemCon and the city’s consultant argued that point during the meeting, stating that vermin are not attracted to industrial waste.
The arguments for and against the landfill were complicated by the fact that there is an existing landfill on the site, and conditional use permits issued in 1971 and 1975 allow a landfill there. Those permits “run with the land,” Cloquet City Attorney Frank Yetka explained at the meeting, noting that the earlier permits have no conditions attached to them. In theory, the company could run a landfill [on the portion of land covered by those previous permits] without new city approval. But it wouldn’t be the landfill the company wanted, and it wouldn’t have the controls the city wanted, including a host fee that should net the city between $1.2 and $3 million over the life of the landfill.
Residents were disappointed after the meeting, while DemCon officials expressed relief.
For DemCon/Shamrock Environmental, it was third time lucky.
Twice before – Sept. 21 and Dec. 21 of last year – councilors had voted 4-3 against the permit. After the first vote, councilors reopened the issue, citing new information from the applicant as well as the very real threat of legal action. The second vote in December was essentially only a vote against a motion to approve the permit. When councilors didn’t follow up that vote with a motion (and a vote) to deny the permit or list the reasons for voting against it, they left the vote legally incomplete.
Since the first two votes, two new councilors – Roger Maki and Dave Manderfeld – had joined the council while Erik Blesener and Herb Johnson had finished their terms and stepped down. Both Blesener and Johnson voted against the landfill the first two times.
The third and (likely) final vote had to happen Tuesday, because the city of Cloquet had to make a final decision on the landfill following the MPCA’s decision to deny residents’ request for an environmental assessment worksheet on the property, which came the same day as the second vote, Dec. 21. The MPCA also approved its operating permit for the landfill Dec. 21, contingent on local approval for the proposal.
Councilors Neil Nemmers, Deb Hill, David Bjerkness (who reversed his previous votes), Roger Maki and Mayor Ahlgren voted to approve the landfill permit Tuesday, while Councilors Manderfeld and Barb Wyman voted against approval.