Cloquet Planning Commission votes ‘no’ to new landfills or existing landfill expansionThe Cloquet City Council will make the final decision at a public hearing Nov. 22, but the planning commission is advising them to change the city’s zoning code to prohibit new or expanded landfills.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Members of the Cloquet Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend the City Council change city code to prohibit any new landfills or expand any existing landfills within city limits.
The recommendation comes as a moratorium on new landfill permits and/or landfill expansion is set to expire Nov. 23.
“If the moratorium runs out, the city is stuck with whatever we have,” Planning Commission Chair John Sanders explained near the end of the meeting, adding that the city council will make the final decision at a public hearing Nov. 22, but the planning commission is advising them to change the city’s zoning code to prohibit new or expanded landfills.
For Clarence and John Badger, the recommendation is bittersweet.
The father and son, who both live in the Antus Addition on the far southeast side of Cloquet, argued adamantly against approval of the new Shamrock Environmental industrial landfill in that area of the city last year. Although the Planning Commission recommended approval of a conditional use permit for the Shamrock landfill, city councilors voted against the permit two different times before approving an amended and more comprehensive permit in February of this year.
“I think they did a great job, but obviously, I feel it’s about two years too late,” John Badger said after the meeting. “Some of the issues they brought up, like property values declining because of a landfill, they said wouldn’t be affected last year. But now they are saying property values are impacted, more by [municipal solid waste] landfills and by industrial to a lesser degree. That’s a little bit of my frustration.”
Clarence Badger asked during the meeting if the recommendations could have come five years before.
“You’re asking us to speculate on something that we have no control over,” said Sanders, who voted against the Shamrock landfill permit last year. “What we’re trying to decide on tonight is what the future will be for landfills within the city.”
Holly Butcher, the city’s community development director, told the elder Badger that she didn’t think a change in city code prior to last year’s application from Shamrock would have prevented the approval of that landfill because there was an existing 1971 permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for a 3.5 million cubic yard municipal landfill for that site already. The fact that there were several legally recorded pre-existing state and city property permits for landfills on that site that had been activated was basically the legal trump card for the landfill company.
“The value of our current cases is that they pointed out areas of deficiency in the code,” Butcher said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Butcher explained the research done by the landfill moratorium committee, the committee’s conclusions and findings of fact and offered the commission two different versions of a zoning ordinance to consider. The first prohibits all new landfills and the expansion of any existing landfills (Cloquet has two active landfills: Shamrock and Sappi.). The second version allowed for expansion of existing landfills if specific conditions were met and a new conditional use permit approved by the city council.
A number of audience members, including several residents and three city council members – Dave Manderfeld, Barb Wyman and Mark Roberts – spoke in support of the more restrictive resolution during the public hearing.
Only two audience members spoke in favor of leaving open the possibility for future expansion of existing landfills.
“If done properly, horizontal-vertical expansion could be very effective for companies that find themselves with some [obstacles] to landfilling,” said Tim Boettcher, Jarden Home Brands environmental health and safety specialist and a former landfill operator himself. “We’re always looking for a good cost option. Serona [Wis.] is not it and in some respects, even Canyon is not it. [Both are landfill sites.]We generally like to keep it local with our non-hazardous materials. And it gives me more flexibility to do what I think the company should do in management plans. We plan to be here another 100 years; that’s how we see it.”
John Domke, vice president of SKB Environmental, introduced SKB as the new operators of the Shamrock Environmental landfill, and assured the commission and the audience that the company wants to be a good community member and a good steward of the environment.
“Obviously this is a large investment so we would like the opportunity to expand,” he said. “I don’t know if we would ever use it.”
Boettcher said after the meeting that he is hoping to utilize the new Shamrock industrial landfill as soon as it opens later this month.
Sanders pointed out later in the meeting that future city councils could certainly change the city code again, if they saw the need.
Mark Roberts, a former Planning Commission chair who was appointed to the City Council Ward 5 seat earlier this year, served on the landfill moratorium study committee.
“I also support the more restrictive language,” Roberts said. “I feel it fits the community better, understanding where landfills in the general area are at today. Their expansion capabilities in years to come can be better dealt with outside our community rather than in the small area we have available.”
In the end, the members of the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the city council adopt the landfill report done by city staff and planning commission members as well as approve the more restrictive resolution amending the municipal code that would prohibit any new landfills or landfill expansion within city limits.
The Cloquet City Council will hold a public hearing on the landfill study and proposed code changes relating to landfills at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22, at City Hall. A second meeting (if needed) is set for Nov. 23. Read the entire landfill moratorium study on the city's website at www.ci.cloquet.mn.us on the home page under “public hearings.”