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CLOQUET CITY COUNCIL: Councilors talk trash

This October 2014 photo shows the giant pit that holds the SKB/Shamrock industrial landfill (center) as well as several gravel pits and, at that time, a temporary asphalt plant. jpeterson@pinejournal.com1 / 2
Work has begun at Fauley Park with the Short Elliot Henderickson (SEH) crew digging up cement and dirt around the train to put in improved drainage, according to an SEH employee. Jamie Lund/ 2 / 2

Wouldn't it would be nice if residents set their trash out on the curb and it magically disappeared? The reality is it needs to go somewhere. The question is, where should it go and who wants a garbage landfill in their backyard?

SKB Environmental owners believe a new municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill should go next to the existing Shamrock Landfill — a 42-acre industrial landfill next to the Hilltop soccer fields — and explained why to Cloquet City Council members during the work session Tuesday night at City Hall. Several SKB representatives attended the meeting and spoke to the council about the company’s vision of what could happen when the Moccasin Mike Landfill near Superior closes in the next five years. A group of about eight residents also attended the meeting, but didn’t participate as it was not a public hearing, just a work session.

Of course, before anything could happen the city of Cloquet would need to change its zoning law to allow the landfill. As it sits right now, Cloquet City Code prohibits any additional landfills within the city limits or the expansion of any existing landfills.

During the informal discussion, SKB officials talked about the company’s perfect operating record over 33 years as well as its impressive annual revenues of nearly $4 billion.

“We will always be a landfill in your community,” said Kyle Backstrom, sales representative and general manager of SKB/Shamrock Landfill in Cloquet, referring to the fact that the existing industrial landfill won’t go away, although it will eventually fill up and become part of the landscape.

The SKB representatives tried to woo the council with the benefits the proposed landfill would bring to the city and residents of Cloquet, including a voluntary city host fee in which SKB would provide the city with $3.50 per ton, which would equal about $448,000 per year. The funds could go into the city’s general fund and could be used for anything from property tax reduction to improved services.

SKB officials said they would also provide $1/ton for a neighborhood enrichment fund to be managed and distributed by the city to invest in the neighborhood surrounding the landfill which would amount to roughly $128,000 per year. SKB lists potential uses for the money could include extension of city services such as water and/or sewer, infrastructure improvements, property tax and/or utility bill credits or possibly adding parks and amenities.

There will also be financial perks for the county. A state-mandated Greater Minnesota Landfill fee that Carlton County would collect for hosting the landfill could amount to approximately $852,000 a year. Carlton County would also collect a proposed $1.50 per ton host fee as part of the volunteer county host fee. The expected annual revenue would be $192,000 per year.

The five SKB representatives took turns speaking about the modern engineering that goes into building a successful landfill, such as the composite liner that protects the environment from water seeping through the waste into the ground and groundwater below.

They explained that most people think of the landfills they visited with their parents as a kid with piles of refuse teeming with birds and other critters.

According to SKB, these landfills no longer exist and modern landfills feature new and improved features to better protect the environment.

There is a liner on the top to prevent water from entering the ground and a liner on the bottom just in case any water does manage to get through the first layer. If any water does get caught on the bottom liner, it would be disposed of properly.

Other common questions SKB has heard includes nuisance issues such as odors and animals. The council members were told that the constant activity would deter birds and animals during the day and that the majority of the landfill would be kept covered. The company also covers its MSW landfills with six inches of soil at the end of the day to prevent odors and animals.

During the work session, SKB officials showed council members a Power Point presentation of several landfills they own and urged members to go visit one in person to see for themselves.

Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge informed them that he had recently done just that on his own and was not impressed by what he found.

Kolodge said he had stopped by the Pine Bend Landfill in Inver Grove Heights and took photographs and videos of the parking lot with garbage and seagulls. Kolodge also noticed it was noisy and there was a definite garbage odor.

SKB officials responded that the trash blowing around was probably from the recycling facility on the property and not the landfill, but Kolodge was not appeased.

“If that's what you are proposing here, I can't support it,” Kolodge exclaimed.

Ward 2 Councilor David Bjerkness also had a few questions for SKB. He inquired how large the finished landfill would be and how long the company planned to be in operation. He was told they would need to be there a minimum of 20 years to make the project worthwhile. The SKB representatives admitted they did not have any drawings of a plan for the landfill, but were trying to give the council members a conceptual feel for the landfill.

“This is important information to know,” Bjerkness said emphatically. “I feel like you don't have any details except finances.”

Ward 1 Councilor Jeff Rock expressed concerns about the $25 million environmental liability insurance policy that Waste Connections would have in place as well as the roughly $1 million bond they have for the existing industrial landfill. Rock was concerned because if there was a leak into the ground water, it could potentially seep into the St. Louis River and eventually into Lake Superior. He wondered if the company could afford to pay to clean up the massive freshwater lake.

SKB officials explained they would carry the policy in case of a worst-case scenario, but due to the robust engineering design they have never had to use the policy. He was assured that SKB has not had any issues of this type in the 33 years they have been in business.

There was no vote on the landfill issue as the meeting Tuesday was strictly informational.

In regular City Council news:

  • Council members voted to opt out of a new Minnesota law allowing temporary family health care dwellings going into effect in September. The law would allow for a temporary dwelling to be placed in a person’s yard or driveway to care for an individual such as a parent in need of short-term care. As the population ages, there has become a shortage of housing available for those with mental and or physical disabilities, leaving families struggling. The property owner/caregiver must be a relative, legal guardian or health care agent for the person being cared for. The city can revisit the idea at a later time and craft a law to better fit the area's needs instead of the blanket state law.

  • A resolution allowing the reservation of parking spaces at Northwoods Credit Union Arena by the Lumberjack Blue Line Club for the 2016-2017 boys hockey season as a fundraiser was passed.

  • The council passed a resolution for a lease agreement with Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College for the operation and maintenance of the new Field 4 at Hilltop Park. The college will be responsible for all of the costs and maintenance including mowing and replacement of turf and pay the city $4,500 a year.

  • The council approved a construction service agreement with Short Elliot Hendricson (SEH) to provide construction services for improvements to Veterans and Fauley parks. The work at Fauley Park began earlier this week.