Updated: Third time lucky for landfill, not neighborsA much more detailed story (a slightly modified version of the story which appears in the Feb. 17, 2011 issue of the Pine Journal) on Tuesday night's Cloquet City Council landfill vote. Final conditional use permit attached.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
For your information
The proposed Shamrock Environmental LLC merchant industrial landfill will be built 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. The company would only operate one five-acre lined cell at a time, and estimated that it would take 25 to 30 years before the entire landfill is full. As part of the conditional use permit, Shamrock Environmental will relocate existing landfill waste onto its lined landfill site over the next 10 years.
Third time lucky for landfill, not neighbors
Story by Jana Peterson/Pine Journal
Round three of the Cloquet landfill battle took place before a crowd of nearly 75 people Tuesday night – so many they couldn’t all fit in Council Chambers – and this time the landfill applicants emerged as winners.
Reversing two previous votes, Cloquet City Councilors and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren voted 5-2 in favor of approving the requested conditional use permit for a 42-acre industrial landfill south of Interstate 35 between 14th Street and Highway 45 in Cloquet to be operated by Shamrock Environmental LLC, more commonly referred to as DemCon/Shamrock. Councilors Neil Nemmers, Deb Hill, David Bjerkness (who reversed his two previous votes), Roger Maki and Mayor Ahlgren voted to approve the landfill permit Tuesday, while councilors Dave Manderfeld and Barb Wyman voted against approval.
Arguments for and against the landfill are complicated by the fact that there is an existing landfill on the site, and conditional use permits issued in 1971 (for 140 acres) and 1975 (for 63 acres) 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, therefore, 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 industrial landfill the company proposed – the old permits are for “sanitary landfills” – and it wouldn’t have the controls the city wanted, including a host fee that should net the city between $1.2 and $4 million over the life of the landfill.
“I think I can speak for the entire council that ‘Do we want a landfill in the city of Cloquet? No,’” said Ahlgren, noting that he lives 177 yards from a closed landfill site. “I just don’t think legally we have a choice. I don’t think we can win a legal battle and, unfortunately, we have to resolve things that councils and townships and county boards did in the early ’70s.”
Opposition to the landfill has ramped up in the eight months since DemCon/Shamrock officials first came to the council, with nearby neighborhood residents doing everything they could to stop it, including requesting an environmental assessment worksheet from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, forming the non-profit Cloquet Citizens Advisory Committee (CCAC), starting a Facebook page, as well as sending repeated messages to city officials, council members, the newspaper and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
On the other side, officials from DemCon Companies of Shakopee (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.
All the back and forth on both sides has added up to a crash course in landfills for everyone involved.
“As Brian [Fritsinger, Cloquet city administrator] noted, this has been a very arduous and difficult process, trying to process all the information we’ve gotten from citizens, DemCon/Shamrock and from our experts, to get to the point tonight where we could act intelligently on the options before us,” Yetka told the audience.
By the end, there were more than 20 conditions attached to the permit approved Tuesday night.
The final concessions came that same evening, first in a work session held prior to Tuesday night’s Cloquet City Council meeting and then during the formal council meeting itself after a call between meetings yielded one final agreement. Nearly all of the last-minute changes were a response to an alternate conditional use permit submitted by the residents group Monday.
“While we recognize DemCon did adopt several of the items in our amended permit for the landfill to address community concerns, several of the most significant items in our submitted CUP were not adopted,” CCAC spokesman Frank McKean said after the meeting, pointing to suggestions about not allowing paper sludge as a cover for the landfill, increased vector (vermin) control for the entire neighborhood as well as decreased landfill height and liability for potential future water problems or “toxic releases” that would require neighborhood evacuation.
There were new faces in the audience Tuesday as well. Billie Waugh stood up and read a letter on behalf of the Cloquet Youth Soccer Association, stating the organization’s objections the landfill on the grounds that it could limit future growth of the soccer fields, contaminate the air the players breath, decrease safety on 14th Street because of increased traffic and prevent other teams from coming here to play because of the landfill.
DemCon Vice President Bill Keegan took notes throughout the meeting and responded to each person’s concerns when he was allowed to speak.
To Waugh, he said there will be no air quality impacts, noting that the Renaissance Fair takes place 200 yards from their facility in Shakopee each year, with no complaints. (The soccer fields are 1,077 feet from the nearest corner of the proposed landfill property.) There will be no increased traffic on 14th Street, he said, because it is a condition in the permit that all landfill traffic enter from Highway 45. Other conditions include control of litter, dust and odor (which is uncommon with industrial landfills). Finally, he said, the landfill is in the northeast corner of the gravel pits, leaving plenty of room for expansion of playing fields.
To John Sanders, a member of the Cloquet Planning Commission who questioned who would monitor the landfill as well as the benefits of having another industrial landfill in the area, Keegan responded that the landfill will provide eight jobs, but service employers who provide much of the community’s employment.
“Eight jobs isn’t a lot, compared to a Sappi or USG,” Keegan said, “but we support the jobs of 80 percent of the top 13 employers listed on your comprehensive plan. The top eight companies are supported by services within our facility. So it’s a very real support for very real jobs within this community. So we aren’t the company that has thousands of employees, we’re the company that supports the companies with thousands of employees.”
With the approval of the conditional use permit, the threat of any legal action by the applicant is unlikely. Whether or not the residents will take their arguments to the courtroom is unknown.
“We haven’t thought about the next step,” said a disappointed resident, John Badger, after the meeting.
Even if neighbors didn’t get what they wanted in the end, their fight did yield gains for Cloquet in the end: the city’s first two refusals resulted in more beneficial conditions (for the city) in the final permit, among them an easement for a frontage road along Interstate 35 for $1 should the city decide to exercise that right, the previously mentioned host fee, decreased operating hours and more. On Tuesday, at the request of the CCAC, the company even agreed to release the names of its owners and investors before commencing operations at the landfill.
“Yes, I think it’s onerous and I doubt it’s required of anyone else running a business in this town but, again, we have nothing to hide,” Keegan told council members during the work session prior to the formal meeting.
With the council approval of the conditional use permit, DemCon/Shamrock has all the permits and approvals it needs to proceed with building its lined industrial landfill, because the MPCA issued its permit Dec. 21, contingent on local permit approval.
“I applaud DemCon/Shamrock for the fact that they stepped up and gave in on a lot of conditions, even this morning,” said at-large councilor Barb Wyman after the vote, when each councilor was given time to explain their reason for voting the way they did and make any other comments. “They’ve professed the fact
that they want to be a good neighbor.
“I would point out to all of you who live in that neighborhood and in all of Cloquet that you’re a watchdog,” she continued. “Anytime anything comes up that you don’t agree with, whether it’s litter or dust or noise or whatever, it would certainly help if you all kept your eyes and ears open and called City Hall.”
Also Tuesday, council members and the Mayor voted unanimously in favor of an interim ordinance imposing a moratorium on new landfills in the city of Cloquet and authorizing a study to consider the possibility of adopting or amending official controls relating to the need for additional land use regulations addressing landfill developments.
The ordinance is effective for nine months from Feb. 24, or until the city amends its laws regulating landfill developments in Cloquet, whatever comes first.
Cloquet Community Development Director Holly Butcher and the Cloquet Planning Commission had recommended the council enact a moratorium for a similar purpose at a public hearing June 15, 2010, prior to the application for the DemCon/Shamrock landfill. After discussion, councilors voted unanimously at that time to work through the landfill process within the existing city code and the conditional use permit process.
Readers can find more background documents attached to this story. Find previous stories on the landfill proposal under the news tab in the "landfill proposal" section.