Landfill will move ahead with smaller expansion

by Joni Astrup
Associate editor
The Elk River Landfill has been given permission by the city to expand into 31.8 acres of land located immediately south of the landfill at 22460 Highway 169.
The Elk River City Council passed several measures Monday, Sept. 19, to pave the way for the expansion. The vote on each was 4-1, with Council Member Jerry Gumphrey voting ‘no.’
The 31.8-acre expansion is about one-third of the size of an earlier expansion request by the landfill. That 109-acre request was unanimously denied by the City Council in September 2009, and the landfill sued the city over the matter.
The two sides eventually reached a negotiated agreement that allows for the 31.8-acre expansion. The votes by the City Council on Monday were needed to allow that expansion to proceed.
City Attorney Peter Beck noted several key points:
•While the landfill is allowed a 31.8-acre expansion, the landfill forever waives its right to pursue any further expansion in the city. Beck said this is significant because it preserves more than 60 acres of land at the future interchange of Highway 169 and 221st Avenue for future development.
•The landfill commits to a closure date of no later than Dec. 31, 2030.
•The landfill agrees to pay an “expansion fee” of $3.33 per ton of garbage deposited 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 currently collects $3.33 per ton.
•A restrictive covenant is required to be executed to ensure that there will be no further expansion of the landfill.
•The deal resolves the litigation with the landfill, Waste Management and Tiller Corp.
Before the council’s votes, two residents raised concerns about a landfill expansion.
Council Member Gumphrey also talked about his oppsition to it.
He said he’s been opposed to an expansion outside of the current landfill property since the day it was presented to the City Council.
“Turning more land into unusable land and taking away a future tax base is not acceptable to me,” Gumphrey said.
Land near the landfill will be very hard to sell for any type of development, and increasing the size of the landfill will only make it a much harder sell, he said.
While the city and county will get a host fee until 2030, Gumphrey said they will be left with hundreds of acres of land that are unbuildable well into the future. “Let’s pray that mankind will come up with a better way to take care of its garbage and to take care of the current landfills,” he said.
He said it really is time another city becomes the host to the landfill. Gumphrey believes a good share of Elk River residents would like the landfill closed.
Council Member Paul Motin said he understands concerns about the expansion. Motin voted against the original 109-acre expansion and said there’s no doubt that was too large.
Regarding the lawsuits, Motin said the city lost the primary case but he believes would have won it on appeal. “I think we were in good shape there, but there’s always uncertainity in the court system,” he said.
While the litigation is one factor Motin weighed, the most important part of the deal for him is having certainty that the landfill will close in 2030 and there will be no more litigation.
He sees the agreement as a win-win for the city and the landfill.
Council Member Matt Westgaard said he isn’t sure anyone is completely happy with the compromise, “but it’s the best resolution short of continuing litigation and spending tax dollars on lawsuits.”
He likes that the city retains some land in the area of 221st Avenue for future development, plus the landfill has a sunset date and its size is limited.
Council Member Nick Zerwas echoed the comments by Westgaard and Motin.
Zerwas said the landfill felt it was within its legal rights to expand into the 109 acres it originally requested and continue further south. Now there’s an end to that speculation, he said.
While Zerwas believes the city would have won in court, he said there was nothing to stop the landfill from tweaking its application, coming in again with another expansion request and suing again if the city denied it.
“There would have been no stopping that,” Zerwas said.
He likes that the landfill is now limited to an expansion that’s just one-third the size of the original request and has a drop-dead date by which the landfill must close.
“I don’t think it’s a win-win, but we got as much as we possibly can,” Zerwas said.
Mayor John Dietz took office after the council denied the landfill’s original request. He said he believes there was a relatively good chance the city could have lost some of the lawsuits “and then where would we be?” he asked. “We would have spent all that money and accomplished nothing.”
In the end he said the city’s share of legal bills for the case is going to be “in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
He said both sides had to give up something to reach a settlement and he believes it was a fair compromise.
The biggest thing the city gets out of it is a drop-dead date by which the landfill will close, and the fact that there will be no more expansions, he said.
“This is it,” Dietz said. “Their footprint is set. This is the end of it.”