New owners propose adding household garbage landfill to Cloquet

Dollars and cents versus quality of life was the theme of a two-hour meeting on a proposal to turn an industrial landfill in Cloquet into a municipal solid waste (aka household garbage) landfill Tuesday.

Dollars and cents versus quality of life was the theme of a two-hour meeting on a proposal to turn an industrial landfill in Cloquet into a municipal solid waste (aka household garbage) landfill Tuesday.

“You're right, all I am doing is throwing money, it’s all I have,” John Domke, divisional vice president of SKB Environmental, conceded to the 40-plus unhappy residents who attended the informational meeting at the Carlton County Transportation building Tuesday evening. “That’s what a host agreement is - that’s what we do in the industry. I apologize, but that’s all I have.”

The current SKB/Shamrock industrial landfill lies in a large pit containing several businesses, including the landfill, gravel pits and a wood storage facility between Interstate 35 and Hilltop Park in Cloquet, near the soccer complex and across the street from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. The industrial landfill itself was permitted in 2011 after previously being turned down twice by Cloquet City Councilors amid talk of legal action.

Domke presented the information about the proposed landfill change to the residents of the Hilltop area and other concerned citizens Tuesday night in Carlton. He stressed that SKB was conducting the meeting voluntarily to educate the public about how the landfill would be operated safely.

He tried to ease the residents’ minds that there would be mandated safety devices in place to prevent the contamination of surrounding soil and water, but they were not convinced.


He told them repeatedly that keeping the landfill covered was the key to preventing unpleasant odors and keeping unwanted animals such as rats, seagulls and bears from being tempted to come into the neighborhood.

Critters, traffic and odor are the top concerns of residents everywhere when confronted with the idea of living next to a landfill, according to Domke.

He began the meeting with a brief history of the Shamrock Landfill.

Domke ended the history portion by stating that in the fall of 2014 Waste Connections Inc. (WCN) completed the purchase of Shamrock Landfill and they don’t intend to go anywhere. He also apologized for the way the original owners went about putting in the landfill, saying that SKB would not do that, but neither can they undo what the original owners did.

Just as the landfill ownership has changed over the years, so have the city’s zoning regulations. Current Cloquet zoning laws prohibit Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) landfills, waste incinerators, hazardous or infectious waste facilities as well as industrial solid waste landfills - the Shamrock site was basically grandfathered in - and construction and demolition landfills. Zoning laws also state “there shall be no expansions to existing landfills of any type within the city.”

The 40 or so residents in attendance listened intently as Domke talked, a few also took notes during the meeting.

“SKB is not just a garbage company,” Domke said. “We believe in doing the right thing, and we are proud of that.”

He went on to say that WCN is a publicly traded national waste management and recycling company with over $5 billion in assets and annual revenues of nearly $2 billion.


He encouraged residents to maximize the benefits of the extra income that would be generated to the city and the county through its host agreements.

The fact is, garbage needs to go somewhere and the waste generated in Carlton County goes to the City of Superior Moccasin Mike Landfill, which plans to close in roughly five years because it is nearly full.

Domke said SKB’s original plan was to purchase the Moccasin Mike Landfill and expand the operations at that facility. Their offer was declined, so they turned their focus to the Shamrock industrial landfill in Cloquet instead.

The next closest landfill taking municipal solid waste currently is located in Sarona, Wis., which is about a three-hour round trip. The added distance would increase the garbage bills for Carlton County residents, Domke noted.

Several residents asserted that they would rather pay the higher garbage bill than see a MSW landfill built 200 feet from the Hilltop soccer field complex, which sees many hundreds of players each season.

“That’s silly, we wouldn't do that,” Domke said. He did admit that the footprint of the landfill would have to be increased because MSW waste has to be stored in a separate cell. He said they plan to purchase the extra space from Ulland Brothers (which owns a gravel pit adjacent to the landfill) and building towards the highway, not the soccer fields.

He also said the little berm already in place would be replaced with a 10-foot high berm with trees planted on it so the landfill would not be visible to the residents.

According to Domke, Minnesota has stringent rules when it comes to landfills.


“We make sure we are doing it right, we don’t want to risk losing our permits,” Domke said.

Domke explained some of the engineering requirements such as the use of two plastic liners to make sure to keep any contamination out of the soil. He also passed around a sample so residents could see for themselves how thick the liners were, adding that they would have an insurance policy in place in case there were any leakages.

Domke said that the water flows east, so it would flow away from nearby wells. Later during the question-and-answer session, a resident said that while there has been research done, there was not conclusive proof that water does indeed only flow east.

Domke said the key to keeping critters from becoming a problem was to cover the landfill every day. He said the Moccasin Mike Landfill was lax about that and was not a very well run operation. When Domke visited the site in Wisconsin, he noticed birds flying around due to the landfill not being covered. He said Moccasin Mike Landfill would not be allowed to operate in that fashion if they were located in Minnesota.

Several residents were skeptical that would solve the problem. One of the residents noted that the landfill is near a wooded area. He already has bears coming into his yard and the Department of Natural Resources has told him to just take down any bird feeders and keep garbage stored away.

Domke stressed that SKB would need to go through a tight approval process in order to be licensed for municipal solid waste, including the county, city, MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) and an environmental review.

In a previous Pine Journal interview, Al Cottingham, Cloquet director of planning and zoning, explained that any resident or property owner can propose a change to the zoning ordinance - something SKB has yet to do - and such an action would take a majority vote of the city council. If the zoning law were changed by the council, a MSW landfill would also have to apply for a conditional use permit and go through that process locally, in addition to gaining MPCA approval.

Domke tried to reassure citizens that the landfill would be constantly testing for leaks and odors to keep the land and water sources safe. He also told the crowd that the landfill would be required to implement a gas monitoring and management process.


Several residents looked skeptical.

An engineer with SKB explained they have an independent testing company take the samples and send them to Test America, who writes the report and sends it back to SKB.

Domke said that the landfill would accept garbage from local counties, but could not answer if any counties in Wisconsin affected by the Moccasin Mike Landfill would be allowed to bring their trash to Cloquet.

Several residents said no matter how the idea is presented, at the end of the day their property values would drop.

Domke tried to convince them they could use the host agreement money to improve the area by adding parks to bring property values back up.

When the meeting was ended several residents stood in groups talking to each other and to the SKB employees before they drifted out the door.

“I am just really tired of continually having to come to these meetings to defend our neighborhood,” said Judy Takkunen, a Hilltop resident since the 1970s, referring to the fact that landfill requests for change have been an almost annual event since the city and MPCA permitted the industrial landfill in 2011.

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