Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Oct. 2, 2000

Wright County Board approves landfill expansion

By John Holler

For a minute or so, it looked as though the Wright County Board was going to approve a license for Superior-FCR Landfill without argument or comments from the 20 people who came to hear the item at its Sept. 26 agenda.

In hindsight, maybe it should have.

As it turned out, the board unanimously approved the license to horizontally expand the current landfill within its boundaries, but not until a couple of contentious exchanges took place.

At first, it looked like the matter would go through without incident. Citing that the request is legal within the county's zoning ordinance, Commissioner Elmer Eichelberg made a motion to approve the license, seconded by Commissioner Ken Jude.

At that point, Commissioner Pat Sawatzke said, "I hope we're not going to stifle public comment today. I think a motion would be appropriate after we had heard what the public had to say."

In hindsight, Sawatzke may have preferred to allow the motion to pass at that point, as the discussion became accusatory and downright rude at some instances. The exchanges began when are resident John Pederson asked the request for the license be denied.

Pederson said that Superior has been fined approximately $40,000 for violations of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, making it the second-most fined landfill in the state.

He added that, since installing an 800 number at the behest of the MPCA, Superior has received 38 public complaints concerning noise, odor and litter.

He also claimed that, of the 17 letters of support received for approving the grant, most came from relatives or employees at the facility and, more startling, that two came from people who don't exist.

"I suggest you stay the course on this latest lawsuit," Pederson said of the county's ongoing litigation with Superior. "Superior admits they have lot to lose in this. The MPCA has said that (it) won't issue the permit to operate until the county's problems are settled."

Rod McGillivray, who operates the facility for Superior, refuted the accusations, saying that most of the 38 complaints came from the same residence, that the MPCA has not said it would hold up issuing a permit for the facility and, concerning the non-existent people sending letters of support, he said. "I resent that type of accusation being made." He added that Superior is within its right to do the expansion and that it should be approved.

"We submitted an application to the county and have met all the requirements," McGillivray said. "The MPCA has said we have met all the state requirements and are operating in compliance, so I request that this application be approved."

What followed next was a chance for members of the public to speak, which led to a couple more contentious exchanges. Mike Stephens, who works with landfills drilling test wells, said the Superior Landfill is one of the cleanest he's seen, but when Board Chair Dick Mattson asked him if he would construct a housing development and drill wells for families near the site, Stephens snapped back.

"That's a ridiculous question," Stephens told Mattson. "All you (commissioners) are concerned with is building houses."

At that point, Sawatzke, who was unsure of Stephens' last name countered, "I don't need Mr. Stephens or Stephenson or whatever his name telling me what I'm thinking about." Stephens immediately countered from the back of the board room that he didn't need to hear from Sawatzke "or whatever your name is."

Assistant County Attorney Tom Zins explained to the board that Superior has met all the requirements and that this licensing issue is separate from any litigation that is ongoing. With that, the board unanimously approved the license application, but not until Sawatzke got in his last word ­ conceding that the county has no option but to approve.

"I will support the motion because they meet the requirements despite the fact that (Superior) has violated the rules set up by the MPCA," Sawatzke said. "Unfortunately, due to the fact that they meet the requirements, we have little choice but to approve the request."

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