Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Dec. 13, 1999

Superior Landfill penalized, but given expansion approval

By John Holler

For the better part of the last half of this decade, Wright County and Superior FCR Landfill have been at odds over interpretations of the county's involvement of the landfill business.

But, as the decade nears its conclusion, FCR scored a pair of victories over the county, which will allow Superior to expand its operation both vertically and horizontally at its Monticello Township site.

The first came Dec. 2, when the Minnesota Supreme Court opted not to hear an appeal from Wright County concerning a dispute with FCR over the interpretation of the county's zoning ordinance - a case the county had lost at both the district and appellate court levels.

The second came Dec. 6, when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), with some reservations, gave FCR approval to proceed with its vertical expansion.

The vertical expansion, critics have argued, will make the highest geographic point in Wright County a mountain of garbage, but FCR officials said the rulings both showed that their company has operated within the law and the rules set up for landfilling.

"I would have to say the we could be considered ecstatic over those decisions," said Rod McGillivray, operator of the Superior FCR facility. "We have contended all along that what we are doing is within the law and the regulations of the state and, in both instances, we have been proved right."

The MPCA approval did not come without some objections, however. In an inspection of the facility the MPCA found four violations - a methane flare that wasn't working, some seepage of leachate material, two areas that required additional daily cover to assure that waste was not able to blow away from the site and sloping too steep in one portion of the landfill.

In a stipulation agreement with Superior and MPCA, Superior agreed not to contest the alleged violations, to make immediate repairs to the cited problems and pay a $29,500 fine. In exchange, once the repairs were completed, the MPCA granted approval for vertical expansion. In addition, Superior is required to hold quarterly meetings with the public to inform the public of current and future landfill activities and set up a 24-hour 800-number to address any citizen complaints.

"What this agreement has done is raise the bar on what we need to do to be compliant with the laws and be a good neighbor to those who live around us," McGillivray said. "What I would like to see now is the county to sit down with us and talk about trying to work together so we can avoid problems in the future."

That, however, isn't as easy as it may sound. Even as the court case over the property line dispute with FCR appears to be over, both Superior and Randy's Sanitation of Delano have ongoing cases in federal court with the county over the county's waste designation ordinance of the mid-1990s, which required all household waste generated in Wright County to be brought to county's compost facility.

A court ruling found such ordinances unconstitutional and both Superior and Randy's Sanitation are seeking damages, which has forced several county officials to be part of lengthy court depositions and makes friendly conversation quite difficult after years of animosity and charges being exchanged from both sides.

"It's not as easy as (McGillivray) makes it sound," Planning and Zoning Administrator Tom Salkowski said. "I've said we'd be more than willing to talk, if (Superior) would drop its lawsuit. But when you have lawsuits pending that are seeking damages and making allegations against you, it's not easy to just forget that and sit down to talk. When situations like that exist, you can't really come to the table and talk when you have a gun to your head."

The flow control litigation is not the only problem some county officials see. Commissioner Ken Jude said the taxpayers of Wright County have already spent more than $250,000 in hiring outside counsel to fight court battles - some of which Jude was convinced that many in the county were convinced could not be won.

Jude said that the county spent $50,000 for a study to determine how to handle a waste handling district, an ordinance that has since been changed after the county determined the language was ambiguous and led to the county's court battles. In the year since, Wright County has paid a law firm in excess of $171,000 to fight the court battles and the billings are still two to three months behind, so that figure will go higher.

As Jude sees it, the time has come for the county and Superior to sit down and talk about their differences. He added that the only people getting rich off the fight are the lawyers representing both sides and that, as far as Wright County is concerned, their end of the costs are coming from the taxpayers.

"Both sides need to put their smoking guns away and talk a little," Jude said. "People have the right to sue like Superior did over the flow control question. That's the American way these days. Both sides need to put some cold water on themselves, stick out an olive branch and try to work together. We're getting nothing accomplished this way except to pay for new cars for the lawyers who represent both sides."

Will the new millennium bring harmony between these two warring factions? Probably not, but, as the costs continue to mount, maybe the cost of continuing the fight will bring them together, much like the cost of losing money by keeping the county's ill-fated compost facility operating forced its closure.

"I'd like to think we could find a middle ground," McGillivray said. "You can't just resolve everything in an instant, but, if we start trying to work on the same page, we can make progress. That would be an improvement over what we have right now and any improvement would be good for all parties involved."

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