City Council debates landfill expansion


Maple Lake’s City Council members found themselves in the vortex of a countywide controversy Tuesday, March 17, as supporters and opponents of a proposed landfill expansion converged on their most recent meeting.
Advanced Disposal, parent company of Rolling Hills Landfill, is seeking a 72-acre expansion, and is also looking to accept household waste in addition to the industrial and demolition waste the company currently accepts. Located east of the Wright County Compost Facility, the site has existed since 1965, owned by a number of corporate entities. Advanced Disposal’s current facility is about 78 acres. The company has set the third quarter of 2015 as a target date to begin accepting waste at the expansion area.
Jeff Young and Mark Rise, neighbors of the Rolling Hills Landfill on County Road 37 in Monticello Township, addressed the Maple Lake City Council with concerns regarding the landfill’s proposed expansion.
Young, whose family has lived in the area since the mid-1800s, said, “We’ve been here for a long time, and we’re very concerned about what they’re trying to do. We’ve lived with the current landfill, with the smell and the odor, and everything has been really tough on everybody, and now we’re getting to the point where it’s contaminating water levels.”
The existing landfill, he said, is currently leaking vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen.
Rise listed the usual complaints of those who live near landfills: odor, noise, traffic and a decrease in property values. According to an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on the proposal, he said, traffic on County Road 37 would double at the very least. Characterizing those issues as “parochial,” he went on to list “more important” issues that he said will impact all the citizens of Wright County.
Highlighting portions of a handout he and Young had prepared for the council, Rise said that landfilling garbage, like increasing the national debt, is a process of cost-shifting expense to our descendants. He characterized the lifespan of a landfill as “a classic example of the privatization of profit and the socialization of loss,” as citizens of states and counties must maintain and be responsible for the safety of a garbage pile long after it ceases to collect revenue.
The idea behind the modern “dry tomb” landfill, he said, is to stockpile garbage in what essentially amounts to a very large garbage bag, and to keep it dry forever. Long-term safety of the engineered system requires ongoing maintenance of the integrity of the liner, leachate and gas drainage systems. In theory, Rise said, this maintenance must continue forever; however, the system, being man-made, must ultimately eventually fail.
Under Minnesota law, he continued, the garbage is viewed as belonging to Minnesota residents and remains their responsibility. Advanced Disposal is responsible for maintaining the landfill for 20 years following closure, after which it becomes the responsibility of the state and county in perpetuity. Modern landfills have been in existence for only 20 to 30 years, Rise said, and how long they will continue to function as designed is not known. Engineering predictions of longevity range from decades to centuries, depending on correct installation, proper maintenance and ongoing removal of leachate. The warranty on the liner material is around 30 years. Physical laws of thermodynamics, Rise warned, dictate that the liners must eventually fail. When the landfill fails, the state and county will experience costs to mitigate the environmental effects. Taxes collected on garbage entering the landfill are used to create a trust fund to mitigate the future cost; however, whether those funds are adequate is not known. The fund proposed for mitigation of problems with the proposed landfill is still to be determined, Rise said, “But it begs the question: how do you set aside sufficient funds to maintain the landfill and to address potential problems that may occur – forever?”
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has concluded that the landfill capacity is already adequate to handle trash generated for the source area through the operating period of the proposed landfill, he said, and adding more landfill capacity now will only make it less likely that our generation will engage in responsible management of the waste it produces.
In closing, Rise said he believes everyone in Wright County has a stake in this matter, and encouraged members of the council to weigh in against the proposal with county commissioners, who are scheduled to vote on the proposal at the end of this month. 
Mayor Lynn Kissock thanked Rise and Young for the information they had provided and said the council would take the issue under advisement after members had had an opportunity to read their handout in its entirety.
Michael Goodale, a hauling contractor and resident of Buffalo, was also in attendance and addressed the council in favor of the expansion.
“There is a need for landfill in Wright County,” Goodale said. 
Having used the Rolling Hills site since the mid-1990s, he said through the years, each new manager has been more strict and stringent about regulations, and that before entering the landfill, waste is tested for pH and metal content. Increased traffic, he said, is just a natural byproduct of “doing business.”
The new state-of-the-art landfills are much different and much better these days than they used to be, he continued, with refuse covered on a daily basis to reduce odors, and liners that are built to last forever. Though he admitted such a claim is impossible to guarantee, he said that any leakage is pumped through the wastewater treatment plant before being released into the rivers.
“The landfill is trying to be a good neighbor,” he said, adding that in coming decades, whether by private ownership or the state, the site would be cared for. In the meantime, lower transportation costs would translate into savings for local residents. 
In response to a request by Mayor Kissock at the council’s previous meeting, Rolling Hills General Manager Mike Niewind has written a letter to the Maple Lake Messenger, which was shared with council members, addressing each of the points in Rise and Young’s earlier letter to area newspapers.
He began with a statement that additional landfill capacity is needed in order to keep waste costs down and reduce the burden caused by longer travel times, saying that most of the waste currently generated in Maple Lake is hauled to other facilities across the metro area, with added fuel costs contributing to increased disposal prices. Maple Lake residents, he added, as part of Wright County, would benefit from more than $31 million in taxes and fees collected on waste that would be disposed of at the site over the next 11 years.
Niewind went on to note that an EIS approved by the MPCA recognized that not only would there be no significant impact on natural resources, but that Advanced Disposal’s offer to purchase the Wright County Compost Facility would actually have a beneficial impact on natural resources, as the company intends to use the facility for waste management and recycling purposes. While opponents to the proposal have expressed concern about increased traffic on County Road 37, Niewand maintained the EIS stated that noise and odor emissions from traffic and construction would be below state standards for residential areas during daytime operation. Advanced Disposal, he added, is committed to working with the local community to make sure traffic is controlled and that haulers are responsive to noise concerns.
Turning to questions about groundwater quality near the landfill, Niewind stressed the importance of distinguishing between an “old unlined” landfill – which has since been closed – and the current Rolling Hills site, which he described as a “new state-of-the-art facility.” Advanced Disposal, with the cooperation of the MPCA, continues to closely monitor and investigate environmental conditions associated with the old landfill, and Niewind noted that since the late 1980s routine groundwater sampling has detected only low-level contaminants in wells on the landfill property. While the level of contaminants detected is below any health risk levels, Niewind said Advanced Disposal has submitted a groundwater investigation work plan to the MPCA, and has taken additional measures to sample private wells in the landfill’s vicinity, which he said so far have shown no presence of contaminants from the old landfill.
In closing, Niewind invited councilmembers and concerned residents to contact him at 320-963-3158 with any further questions.
In other business, the council:
• Received a feasibility report for the proposed 2015 sewer repairs project and called for a public improvement hearing Tuesday, April 21. The project will include some sewer segments that were not able to be lined as part of the city’s 2013 sewer lining project. The areas in need of repair include segments of pipe in the backyard area north of Sunset Street between Rose Avenue and Elm Avenue, and also a short segment on Ash Street north of Division. The sewer segments in these areas consist of six-inch diameter clay pipe that have several misaligned joints, cracks and sags. The project also includes replacement of a two-inch diameter water main with a four-inch main. The total estimated project cost is $166,100. Though the majority of the project costs will be covered through the sewer and water funds, assessments associated with the improvements will be needed to cover a small portion of those costs. It is anticipated that the sanitary sewer portion of the project will be eligible for participation in the current Public Facilities Authority loan program. 
• Approved signing a $4,000 grant agreement with the Initiative Foundation for an industrial park feasibility study. Agstar also awarded the city $5,000 in February, which brings the total to $9,000 in grants for this project. 
• Discussed improving the city’s approach to potential film deals. Councilmember Deb Geyen forwarded a local investor’s concerns over a movie deal that has not come to fruition. Kissock said she had been in contact with the director and producers of the film, who in turn had reached out to a local business owner hoping to get some return on an investment – a prospect they say is unlikely at this time. “As stated in the contract,” Kissock said, “of course there’s no guarantee in this kind of funding; however, I do want to also state again, the movie is going to be made. They have attempted to pursue a community-funded model, which really was not realistic.” The filmmakers, she said, are now pursuing private investors for their funding and she maintains contact with executive producer Bridget Cronin. “The intent is that the movie will be made in Maple Lake,” she said. “It’s just a matter of them securing funding.”
• Adopted a resolution entering into a cooperative landscape agreement with the State of Minnesota for the Highway 55 Beautification Project, stating that the city will perform landscaping along Highway 55 from Division Street to Donnelly Drive Northwest and requests the state participate in the acquisition costs of landscape materials at an estimated  cost of $3,000, not to exceed $5,000. 
• Authorized the purchase of 10 poles from Steve Peterson to support Christmas lighting at a cost of $3,030 and approved signing of a seasonal pole usage license agreement with Xcel Energy. 
• Agreed to enter into a landlord’s consent to assignment, which would assign hangar ownership to Citizens Alliance Bank in the event of default by hangar owner Roland Keranen.
• Approved an on-sale 3.2 malt liquor license for the Maple Lake Amateur Baseball Association, running May 1-November 1, contingent upon meeting all state requirements.
• Approved a consent agenda that included payment number 10 of $40,162.17 to SAK Construction for the Inflow and Infiltration (I&I) Improvement Project; payment number eight of $28,865.87 to LaTour Construction for the 2014 Street Improvement Project; contributions of $180 to the Maple Lake Ambassadors by the Maple Lake Lions; $750 for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration from the Chamber of Commerce; and $1,500 from the American Legion for Christmas decorations. 
The council’s next meeting is Tuesday, April 21, at 7 p.m.