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Landfill, council talk legal issues



The owner of the Cloquet industrial landfill is challenging city policies that it says discriminate against the business.

Five members of the Cloquet City Council and Mayor Dave Hallback met with as many representatives of SKB Environmental on Aug. 2, in a work session that ran long and is scheduled to continue at the landfill next week.

Michael Drysdale, an attorney for SKB, was the dominant voice in the conversation. The attorney referred to a July 24 letter he sent the City Attorney regarding an ordinance amendment passed by the city council in May, which defined a "special event" as "a unique or unforeseen event of limited duration" within the city of Cloquet or within 30 miles.

The issues, Drysdale pointed out, are that the industrial landfill owned by SKB is the only facility in the city that contains a special events clause in its conditional use permit (CUP), and that the terms of that clause are arbitrary.

"There is no difference between the effects of the disposal of wastes that originate on either side of a 30-mile radius boundary," he wrote, adding that there is also no basis for limiting special events to seven days.

Citing several legal cases in his letter, Drysdale alleged that the city ordinance discriminates against the landfill and is "the result of naked public agitation and pressure, which is an unlawful basis to restrict a valid land use." It also could interfere with the "free flow of commerce," which could be a violation of the U.S. Constitution, he noted.

In his letter, Drysdale said SKB could challenge the ordinance and, if the company prevailed, could be entitled to damages and attorneys' fees.

However, he said in his letter and at the Aug. 2 meeting, an "acceptable" result on SKB's requests for changes to its permitted hours and the allowed percentage of paper sludge the landfill can accept could make moot any challenges to the ordinance.

In January, SKB requested the CUP be amended to allow the landfill to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week while maintaining the flexibility to expand the hours for specific projects. SKB also asked to eliminate the current CUP condition placing a 20 percent cap on the total annual volume of paper sludge waste and allow the acceptance of this paper sludge on a 24-hour basis.

"If the council approves what we've proposed, then the need for the special event clause flexibility goes away," Drysdale said.

The reasons behind their request are business reasons, landfill officials said, noting that it is difficult to compete when competitors have no limits on hours or paper sludge content.

"But you knew what you were getting into when you purchased [the landfill in 2012]," said Ward 2 Councilor David Bjerkness.

The two groups discussed the various reasons for and against the CUP limitations on paper sludge (including generation of gases and odor) and operating hours, along with other landfill topics and ultimately agreed to continue the discussion at a tour of the landfill. The tour — which will be open to the public because it's a public meeting — will be held at the landfill at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15. The landfill can be accessed via an exit off Highway 45, just past the park-and-ride lot in Scanlon.