Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, April 12, 1999

Wright board denies landfill expansion on 3-2 vote

By John Holler

The Wright County Board of Commissioners knew what to expect when it mailed out the agenda for its April 6 meeting - a full house of spectators and two opposing viewpoints concerning its decision on rezoning 40 acres of property, the FCR Landfill in Monticello Township.

However, even the board may have been a bit overwhelmed by the turnout, a standing-room-only crowd that came to hear the county deny a request by Superior Services for the rezoning and some of the rationale given for commissioner votes on the matter.

"We knew this was going to be a hot topic," Board Chair Pat Sawatzke said. "Any time we've had a discussion about that landfill, there is controversy. But I must say I was a little surprised at some of the decisions made by the commissioners."

As was expected, Sawatzke allowed both sides of the debate - representatives of FCR Landfill and SLOPE, a citizens group opposed to landfill expansion - to speak. Both sides spoke from prepared texts, carefully choosing their words in a debate that both sides knew may be repeated in court at a later date.

"The county has known of our intention to expand since 1996," said Rod McGillivray, who runs the FCR facility. "The MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) is ready to issue us a permit because we have already completed the environmental impact statement we were required to complete.

"Yet, it seems the county's ordinance is intended to eliminate landfills in Wright County. We have no problem being governed by the county, but this ordinance is intended to deny any rezoning. If we're given no other option, we will have no choice but to take litigation. If litigation is the only avenue we have, it's the avenue we'll take."

McGillivray said little to no effort has been made by the county to meet and attempt to reach a middle ground on the issue and threatened more litigation against one unnamed commissioner, who he said had publicly referred to Superior officials as "a bunch of liars."

Speaking on behalf of the SLOPE group, Mark Rise said that Superior is not a good neighbor to the area and made several points to the board.

Among them were that an estimated 90 percent of garbage received at the landfill comes from outside Wright County, if the facility took only Wright County's garbage it could operate for 30 more years, that only 26 of Minnesota's 87 counties have waste disposal landfills and that by law, Superior is only responsible for ground or water contamination for 30 years after it closes - beyond that it becomes the responsibility of Wright County.

Rise ended his remarks with a caution to the board not to give in to Superior's threats of costly legal action, saying that it would set a bad precedent.

"Every time the county hasn't acquiesced (to Superior), you've been sued," Rise told the board. "If I wanted to have property rezoned and it was denied, I couldn't sue the county because I simply couldn't afford to. You can't have two sets of rules that apply to companies that have the finances to take the county to court to get their way."

The board opened the floor to any of the more than 50 spectators at the meeting and several stepped forward. All argued against approving the rezoning, with reasons ranging from every township in the county voted against allowing a rezoning, to the board having a moral obligation to future generations not to allow any further expansion, and to not enough data available to support that the landfill liner will not crack or degrade in the future.

When the matter came back for board discussion, the board was divided. Commissioners Sawatzke, Dick Mattson and Jack Russek all supported the conclusions made by the planning commission in its rationale for denying the request to rezone, but both Commissioners Ken Jude and Elmer Eichelberg voted against the denial - each reading from a prepared statement intended to be included as part of the official record of the event.

Eichelberg voted against the denial saying that his inquisition into the matter has provided more questions than answers and he feels the board should try to reach a compromise to avoid an all-or-nothing court decision.

Jude's rationale was much more pointed, saying that the outcome of the vote had been decided many months ago, he won't be a part of putting a company out of business because the board doesn't like the business they're in, the county has been unwilling to try to reach a compromise and he believes it is the intention of "a few people in the county to close the landfill simply to reopen the compost site."

The 3-2 vote allowed the denial to be accepted. Since such a decision will likely remove any chance of the expansion taking place during this construction season, it is anticipated that Superior will file suit soon in either district court or appeals court to attempt to get the decision overturned in the legal system.

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