Cloquet Council denies landfill request

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Cloquet City Councilors voted unanimously Tuesday to deny requested permit changes for the industrial landfill in town, despite the threat of legal action.

SKB Environmental Cloquet Landfill had requested two changes to its conditional use permit, or CUP: longer hours seven days a week and the ability to landfill an unlimited amount of paper sludge, rather than the current 20 percent cap. The changes were opposed by most neighbors and some other residents, many of whom filled the Council Chambers along with close to half a dozen SKB staff and their attorney.

Following a powerpoint presentation by city landfill consultant Fred Doran and questions from Cloquet City Attorney Frank Yetka and Ward 2 City Councilor Dave Bjerkness, Ward 1 Councilor Jeff Rock motioned that the council deny both requests from the landfill owners.

Rock, whose ward includes the Hilltop neighborhood and the landfill site, offered the motion "on the grounds that SKB has been in continuous violation of their CUP as it sits today."

"They've been unable to mitigate the odor leaving the property, which at the very least is a nuisance to neighboring properties, residents and anyone traveling through the area," he said referring to a mothball-like odor which has been identified as naphthalene, a constituent of the coal tar waste that forms the pollutant material at a Superfund site near Ashland, Wis.

The soil from the Superfund site at the bottom of Chequamegon Bay is being disposed of at the Cloquet landfill. At least 60 trucks a day have been traveling to the landfill from Ashland every day since May, and will bring an estimated 180,000 tons of contaminated sediment to the landfill by the time they're finished.

Rock added that the city has also been alerted that nearby roads (Highway 45) are being polluted by debris from the landfill, possibly dirt from the Superfund site.

"Because SKB continues to be unable to effectively monitor and remedy these situations, it makes it abundantly clear that the cap of 20 percent paper sludge needs to be in place," Rock said, adding a number of possible reasons for not increasing the sludge amount, including methane gas buildup and possible fire or underground explosions that would render the state-of-the-art liner system useless and allow other waste, such as runoff water containing naphthalene (a known carcinogenic), to enter the local water table.

After Rock made his motion and At Large City Councilor Adam Bailey seconded, new Cloquet City Administrator Aaron Reeves suggested that the council add any additional findings from staff to the official record, which they did after Yetka outlined

After some additional staff discussion, Mayor Dave Hallback said the council should move forward with its decision. When Yetka noted that the SKB attorney had asked to address the council, Hallback said he could address them during the citizen comment portion of the meeting, after the vote. While several citizens did address the council, congratulating them on the vote and expressing further concerns about the landfill, no SKB representatives did.

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During Monday's City Council work session, councilors discussed changing the financial agreement between the city and the Cloquet Amateur Hockey Association, in part so CAHA can offer the Wilderness junior hockey team a better deal (to keep them here and viable) and to help the youth hockey association become more financially stable. Councilors agreed that city staff should continue to try to talk with CAHA and the Wilderness owner.

Councilors also met with members of the Police Citizen's Advisory Board to discuss the role of the CAB. City Administrator Aaron Reeves, CAB members and councilors agreed the role of the CAB is to "assist the Cloquet Police Department with regard disciplinary procedures, public complaints and hiring procedures." CAB member Lauri Ketola said that has been the historic role of the CAB, but the three-person citizen group has not been contacted regarding complaints against police officers since Interim Police Chief Jeff Palmer came on board. Palmer said he had concerns about data privacy and was unclear how he should work with the board. In the end, it was agreed that city staff will rewrite the city code and the CAB rules and regulations to greater detail how the CAB will help with complaints, discipline and firings. The hiring portion of the code is already quite detailed. Reeves said he should be able to bring something back to the council within weeks.