Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Aug. 23, 1999

Area township imposes fee on landfill

By Gail Lipe

The Rich Valley Town Hall was filled with interested citizens Aug. 11 as the township board voted to impose a new fee on the Spruce Ridge Landfill near Biscay.

The board passed a 75 cent per cubic yard fee on a 2-1 vote, with board member Roger Schmidt as the only dissenting vote. Voting for the motion were George Nemec and Myron Ruschmeyer. Treasurer Bill Schaeve is a non-voting member.

Township attorney Michael Couri explained the legislation that authorizes townships to impose up to $1 per cubic yard fee upon area landfills. The legislation allows the townships, where landfills are located, to impose this fee to deal with the landfill and the risks and problems associated with other people's garbage.

The law mandates the first 25 cents collected from each cubic yard be placed in a separate fund that can be used only on landfill abatement, or for mitigation and compensation for local risks, costs and other adverse effects of the landfill.

The rest of the fee will go into the township's general fund to be used as the township sees fit.

The fee from the landfill operator is not required to be passed on, but Couri was certain the fee will be passed on to the haulers, who will pass it on to the consumer.

The new fee will apply to all the garbage brought to the landfill, no matter where it comes from. It is estimated that about 80 percent of garbage brought to Spruce Ridge comes from outside the county.

Couri said imposing the fee does not give the township any legal liability to clean up pollution related to the landfill.

If there is a problem, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) would most likely strike a deal with the township to share expenses if the fee is imposed.

Couri said the proposed ordinance can charge by the ton, which is defined at 3.33 cubic yards. He said the ordinance is a vehicle to solicit input from the area at a public hearing, not a public vote.

Phil Schweizer from Spruce Ridge landfill told the board that he wanted to put the proposed fee into perspective. He said adding the $1 per cubic yard would tack on the equivalent of 9 percent sales tax to Hutchinson, not figuring in the taxes already paid.

"Despite having a $220,000 surplus, you are imposing tax on them," Schweizer said.

When asked what the board would do with the money that would go into the general fund, the board had no immediate projects for the money.

"They want to impose this fee and have no idea what they will do with it?" said a community member.

"It depends on what they impose," Couri said. "Cities and counties do not sit and wait until a problem arises to get money. The first 25 cents will be set aside for problems."

He also let everyone know that the proposed ordinance was not a board-induced request. It was brought to the board by township residents wanting this fee enacted.

There was discussion about whether or not the township has a need for the fee, and how the board would be policed in using it.

A suggestion was made to set up an oversight committee for the money. Another suggestion was to cut the overall township levy because of the money being added to the general fund.

Doug Flaa, business manager for Spruce Ridge Landfill, said it was unrealistic to think the township would need the 25 cents per cubic yard, or that the county would need the $8 million it has to clean up the landfill because of the safeguards already in place.

The MPCA requirements for landfill sites are based on protection. The waste management corporation is required to provide a bond to take care of problems, and there is constant testing required, which has had positive results, Flaa said.

"The technology is tremendous now, and landfills are not the problem thing they used to be," Flaa said.

Warren Macemon said wells previously tested were way above intervention levels in the old landfill area. He said the landfill has been in business so long it would take a long time to clean it up.

"I think there is a huge problem and everyone needs to be aware that in the future it will need to be cleaned up," Macemon said.

Schweizer said he would be happy to bring people to the landfill and show them there is no need to be worried about the "bogeyman of contamination. We are a highly regulated establishment with state-of-the-art technology. If environmental issues are really the question, let us bring regulators in here (the landfill)," Schweizer said.

Schweizer told the board to enact only the 25 cents to take care of the environmental issues if it imposes the fee. He reminded the board of the nearly three-year surplus it has, and now it will be telling the residents to take additional money out of their pockets.

Ed Homan, McLeod County solid waste director, said seven rural residential wells around the landfill are currently tested for 68 contaminants. The tests are sent to the Minnesota Department of Health, and the results have met the drinking water standards. The tests have been conducted regularly since 1991.

Homan also said Macemon was accurate, to a degree, about one of the wells at one time, but he could not recall the level of contamination.

There was discussion about landfill prices getting so high the garbage may be shipped out of state. Even so, Homan said an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 tons of waste are taken in at Spruce Ridge in any given year.

Schweizer said less than 1/10 of 1 percent of garbage produced in Rich Valley Township ends up at the landfill because it is legal for the township residents to dispose of garbage on their own property.

"Anything the landfill can legally take, homeowners can dispose of on their own property," Schweizer said.

One township resident suggested using some of the funds created by the fee for a township-wide weekly garbage collection. There was discussion about the feasibility of it, and the township board was not interested in the liability the collection can create.

Macemon said the increase to the average household should be published so the residents know what it will cost them. The per cubic yard, or per ton, amount will not be the amount charged to households.

Schmidt said the board sent approximately 530 letters explaining the tax with a survey attached. It received 141 back saying "yes" to the fee, 20 saying "no" to the fee and 7 saying neither "yes" or "no" to the fee. Out of the 141 saying yes, 77 wrote comments regarding how the fee dollars could be used or collected.

"I do not think people fully understood what they were responding to," Schmidt said. Some suggested either charging on only McLeod County garbage or only out of county garbage, which is illegal. If the fee is imposed, it would have to include everyone.

Another suggestion was to give the township residents some of the money in a direct rebate, which also is illegal.

Schmidt made a motion to not adopt the ordinance, which died from a lack of a second. A motion to adopt the ordinance for the landfill 75 cents per cubic yard was passed.

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