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Cloquet City Council denies changes to landfill permit

A landfill employee makes sure the bed of this side-dumping truck is empty. Trucks just like this have carried thousands of loads of contaminated soil from a Superfund site in Wisconsin to the industrial landfill in Cloquet over the past several months. Tyler Northey/Pine Journal

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 (CUP): longer hours seven days a week, and the ability to take 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 members and the company’s attorney.

Following presentations 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 for the council to 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., which is being disposed of at the Cloquet landfill.

Rock added that the city has also been alerted that nearby roads 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 liner system useless and allow other waste, such as the known carcinogenic naphthalene, 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 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 spoke.

Read Thursday's print edition of the Pine Journal for more on this story.