Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, February 15, 1999

Wright County vs. Superior FCR Landfill underway

By John Holler

It was a fight both sides expected would happen; the only question was, "When?"

As it turned out, that would be Feb. 9, when the Wright County Board met in closed chambers to discuss what promises to be the first step in a legal fight with Superior Services over the future of the county's only operating landfill.

The board hastily finished its Feb. 9 agenda to meet in closed session with attorneys to discuss a lawsuit filed against the county by Superior-FCR Landfill. At question is the validity of the county's zoning ordinance and the rights of Superior to expand its landfill operation.

The legal battle has been predicted for the last six months, after the county approved a revised zoning ordinance that included waste handling district guidelines. Since the FCR Landfill is the only operating landfill in the county, Superior officials felt they were being singled out. The county maintained it has the right to determine zoning issues within its borders. The battle was joined Feb. 9, but it began with a knock on the door of Commissioner Pat Sawatzke Feb. 4.

"I opened the door and saw someone holding a package," Sawatzke said. "I thought to myself that it was either someone delivering me a bomb or we were being sued. As it turned out, it was Superior filing suit against the county. The county board chair typically is the one who gets served and it was me."

The suit came as the result of a denial by the county's board of adjustment to allow a variance for FCR Landfill to continue with a proposed vertical expansion, which, according to landfill opponents, would make the highest point in Wright County a mountain of garbage.

However, FCR officials maintain that landfilling is a necessity and it is within its rights to contain as much solid waste on one site as can feasibly be handled and that the county knowingly created changes in the ordinance to hinder their ability to conduct free enterprise.

"Our contention is that the waste handling and disposal district line was drawn by the county and that the 200-foot setback requirement fits within our property," FCR Manager Rod McGillivray said. "The county contends that the setback line starts and ends strictly in the waste handling zone in the footprint designed by them. We're looking to have this matter settled."

That will come in the form of a ruling from the 10th District Court in Buffalo. The case was scheduled to be heard at 9 a.m. Friday, Feb. 12. The suit asks that the judge rule on the definition of the property line before dealing with the question of seeking a variance for the proposed expansion.

Superior contended in 1998 that the county put off the company's proposal until after the new regulations were put in place and that the county has not acted in good faith. The county has maintained that no individual or corporation can force it to make or change policies by using the threat of expensive litigation , leaving the two sides at a standstill.

"The closest we came to a resolution was a compromise offered by the board of adjustment to allow a vertical expansion of 100 feet," said McGillivray, adding that the minimum expansion that could be properly done would be at least 150 feet. "However, that wasn't something that was feasible from our standpoint. It would have been extremely expensive and would have essentially created a ravine that would have been very difficult to complete."

Both sides are requesting a summary judgment, which could be made from the bench, which is unlikely, but must be made within 60 days. The loser has the right to appeal. Superior will next go before the planning commission March 4 to ask for a new waste zone on its property, but both sides readily agree that this matter is far from done in or out of court.

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