Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 26, 2001

Area township considering proposal from landfill

By Gail Lipe

The Rich Valley Township Board has been asked by the Spruce Ridge Landfill to change the fee it imposes from a $2.50 per ton tip fee to a $1 per ton host fee agreement.

Spruce Ridge claims that the whole amount could be put into the township's general fund to be used however it wants.

The issue was discussed at the township's annual meeting on March 13, but no decision was made. The township board decided, after over an hour of discussion, to have its attorney look at the agreement with the landfill's attorney.

It also suggested that the attorney could get a written opinion from the Minnesota Attorney General as to whether or not the entire host fee can go into the general fund.

Rich Valley Township Clerk Sue Schulz said the issue was brought up at the annual meeting as information for the township residents. That way the residents could voice their thoughts on the matter.

She said there were some concerns voiced, but the major one is the legality of putting the entire host fee amount into the general fund.

Currently, Rich Valley Township collects $2.50 per ton of waste that is taken to the landfill as a tip fee. The state law allows the fee, but 83 cents per ton has to be set aside for landfill abatement projects.

The fee was imposed in September of 1999, which has generated over $95,000 in the last 1-1/2 years.

The host fee agreement would be a five-year contract that would drop the fee to $1 per ton. Mark Reinert, from Spruce Ridge Landfill, said the contract has a built-in escalator that allows the fee to go up a certain percentage every year.

In addition, all Rich Valley Township residents would be able to deliver up to 1,000 pounds of their garbage to the landfill per month at no cost, and the free pick-up of their recycling would continue.

"That is something we can give back to the township," said Reinert. "The landfill is in the township, and it is not going anywhere."

Reinert said the base gate charge at the landfill has been dropping from its high of $45 per ton in September 1999 to the present $32.34 per ton.

He said he has seen a small increase in business since the rate dropped, but dropping it again will help bring back more of the business that was lost.

The Norwood Young America transfer station is currently shipping its garbage to Iowa. Reinert said the fee there is only $3 and there are no more taxes added.

In McLeod County, the total gate rate, including state and local taxes and fees that have been imposed, is currently $48.50 per ton. More than 33 percent of that is taxes and fees.

Reinert said once a company has gone through the expense of loading the garbage on a semi, the mileage to Iowa is no big deal.

If the host fee agreement is put into place, it may be affordable for the waste going through Norwood Young America to be re-routed back to Spruce Ridge. Reinert said that would double the current volume.

Reinert considers the host fee agreement a win-win situation. Lowering the fee would allow for additional volumes into the landfill, which would result in higher revenues for the township and Spruce Ridge.

But, the township is still concerned about the Minnesota statute that the current tip fee falls under. Schulz said that putting the entire amount of a host fee into the general fund has never been challenged.

The concern is, if the practice was challenged in the future and the court said the money needed to be put into an abatement fund, the township would have to come up with a large amount of money for the abatement fund.

"The host fee agreement is nothing new for Waste Management (owner of Spruce Ridge)," said Reinert. He said it has host fee agreements with a landfill in Burnsville and the township's side of the landfill in Elk River.

One township resident asked why the garbage bills have not been going down along with the fees at the landfill.

Reinert said that the residents would have to talk to the hauler about that.

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