City, landfilll approve agreement to settle lawsuits
by Joni Astrup
An agreement has been hammered out to settle four lawsuits over the expansion of the Elk River Landfill.
Both the landfill and the Elk River City Council have approved the agreement, which spells out the terms to settle the lawsuits. It allows the landfill to seek approval for an expansion, but not as large an expansion as originally requested. In addition, the city would collect millions in a fee to be paid by the landfill.
The landfill is located along Highway 169 in northern Elk River.
“Waste Management is pleased with where we are and with the consensus that we’ve reached with the city,”
said Julie Ketchum, director of government affairs at Waste Management. “We’re ready to move forward to provide an essential service to our customers and to continue to invest in the community of Elk River.”
She said they are proceeding with complying with the terms of the agreement.
The landfill had initially sued the city after the City Council voted unanimously in September 2009 to deny the landfill’s request to expand.
Without an expansion, officials said at the time they anticipated the landfill would be full in less than five years.
Here’s more about the agreement.
Landfill can pursue smaller expansion
The landfill would be allowed to pursue approval for a 27.2-acre expansion, under the terms of the agreement. The landfill’s previous request was for 109 acres of rezoned and reguided land, with about 70 acres of that used for depositing waste, according to City Attorney Peter Beck.
The 27.2-acre expansion would be filled with up to 5.4 million cubic yards of waste. That’s equal to about 40 percent of the previous request, which was for a landfill expansion of 13.6 million cubic yards of waste, according to Beck.
Under the terms of the agreement, the landfill would close to the public no later than Dec. 31, 2030.
‘Expansion fee’ would generate millions
If the city approves the 27.2-acre expansion, the landfill would pay the city an “expansion fee” of $3.33 per ton of garbage disposed in the landfill from Jan. 1, 2011, through June 30, 2015, and $5 per ton from July 1, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2030.
The city would be able to use the fee for any lawful purpose, including general fund purposes.
The city currently collects $3.33 per ton of waste deposited in the landfill, Beck said. A fee of $5 per ton equals a 50 percent increase in the current fee.
In total, Beck said the city estimates that the increased fees for the 27.2-acre expansion would result in approximately $27 million in fees collected over the remainder of the landfill’s lifespan.
“This is roughly equal to the amount of fees that the city would have collected from the landfill’s previous 68.8-acre expansion request, which did not include an increase from the $3.33 per ton fee,” according to Beck.
Spells out terms to settle lawsuits
If the landfill and Tiller Corp. submit plans to the city for the 27.2-acre expansion and the expansion is approved, the lawsuits brought by the landfill against the city will be dismissed and appeals withdrawn.
There are four lawsuits pending against the city. Three of them (the second, third and fourth), have been decided at the district court level and have reached the court of appeals, where they have been stayed pending the outcome of the first lawsuit, Beck said. The first lawsuit is pending before 10th District Judge Robert Varco in Sherburne County District Court in Elk River. “The settlement agreement would settle all four of the landfill’s pending lawsuits against the city,” according to Beck.
The agreement was reached with the help of a mediator. Representatives from the city and the landfill met with retired Hennepin County Judge Steven Lange three times over the past year or so, according to Beck. During their final meeting they came to the tentative agreement, which required the approval of the full city council to become effective. The council voted 4-1 to approve the agreement. Council Member Jerry Gumphrey voted ‘no.’
Both Mayor John Dietz and Gumphrey declined to comment. The city attorney has advised the mayor and council not to comment on the agreement at this point.
What’s the next step? Beck said reguiding, rezoning, conditional use permits and license approvals are necessary for the agreement to become effective. The landfill must submit revised applications, which the council will consider and act on, he said.