The proposed expansion of a landfill in Wright County could have a direct negative impact on the viability of the Crow Wing County Landfill, says a comment letter to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) drafted by the environmental services department.
Advanced Disposal, which owns the Rolling Hills Landfill in Buffalo, is proposing an expansion of its existing facility that includes adding collection of mixed municipal solid waste (MMSW) from Minnesota and Wisconsin counties within a 75-mile radius. Crow Wing County is one of 33 Minnesota counties included in the service area.
The MPCA released its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the project in July, a process mandated by an administrative rule based on the proposed disposal capacity of the landfill. Chris Pence, supervisor in land services, said Crow Wing County prepared the comment at the request of the Minnesota Solid Waste Administrator's Association (SWAA), which asked counties with a potential impact from the facility to comment.
"Since 1991, our county has made significant investment in an integrated waste management system that includes a lined (MMSW) landfill," the comment states. "This program has been successful and we have no intention of modifying our solid waste plan to allow MMSW generated in our county to be transferred to the proposed landfill."
The comment concluded, "The county does not support the proposed development of this landfill for MMSW since there is sufficient processing and disposal capacity in existing facilities."
Pence said if the expansion was approved, there would likely be a transfer station nearby where haulers would bring their garbage, which would then be sent to Rolling Hills.
"If all the garbage that would typically come to the landfill is diverted to a different source, there would be issues with that, with not having the funding in place to support the current landfill," he said. "If we didn't receive any more garbage in the landfill, the county board would have to decide to fund it through levy dollars or to close down the landfill, in essence, and no longer have a county landfill."
The letter was included on the Crow Wing County Board's consent agenda for approval at its Tuesday meeting before Commissioner Paul Thiede asked it to be removed for further discussion.
Solid Waste Coordinator Doug Morris explained the department's position to the board and answered questions about the issue.
Morris said the company would be required to show there was a need for another landfill through a certificate of need (CON) issued by MPCA, and that he did not feel this threshold would be met based on available evidence in the EIS. After analyzing the capacity available at landfills within the proposed service area over the next 10 years, the length of time the Rolling Hills facility would potentially operate, the MPCA's analysis said existing landfills in Minnesota could provide sufficient capacity. This information will be used when the agency evaluates the company's CON application.
SWAA President Troy Freihammer, who is also in charge of solid waste in Stearns County, said by phone the organization is submitting its own comment to the MPCA outlining its concerns.
"We're going to be watching it as it unfolds," Freihammer said. "Generally, the group is concerned about a (CON), where a (CON) is going to come from."
"We're not saying the program is bad, we're just saying you should take out the MMSW component of it, until you prove a need through the CON process," Morris told the board.
Thiede said the letter should have been clearer in relaying the county's concerns, and he voiced his own concern that the county was injecting its position into the CON process that the regulatory agency should be determining based on specified criteria, not vested interests' needs.
"If they (MPCA) have some ulterior motive or some nefarious thing that they're planning, scheming, and they're going to permit this one so they can put the rest of us out of business, we need to say that," Thiede said. "If there's that kind of thing going on rather than us just saying, all this fine language just says here, 'We really think you need to look at this a little closer.' Let's be honest with what our opposition is."
Morris said the letter generally supported the MPCA's conclusions, but also that the EIS should have considered a longer time period than 10 years to determine available landfill capacity.
The letter states, "Existing landfill capacity would have been better understood if landfills are allowed to complete environmental review for their entire proposed design rather than a five to 15-year term of the CON or permitted capacity."
In other words, counties typically have long-term plans for capacity that extend beyond a decade, and Morris said the MPCA should consider this in future CON applications.
Commissioner Paul Koering said that although he is typically not in favor of government intervention in private enterprise, he was concerned that Crow Wing County tax dollars could potentially be used for environmental remediation if future contamination from the facility were detected.
"I believe I will support this letter because if you look further down the road, we, taxpayers in this county, could be on the hook," Koering said.
County administrator Tim Houle said there were three main concerns for the county with this landfill proposal, the groundwater contamination issue being one of them.
"One, there's not a demonstrable need," he said. "Two, we have a huge investment in the environmental protection of what happens to Crow Wing County's solid waste already. And three, you're going to be liable for where your garbage goes."
Thiede asked whether Crow Wing County could become involved in a lawsuit, should the company choose to sue if their expansion were denied.
"We're just providing comment," Morris said. "I don't think they can go after people for providing comment."
Thiede said he still was not convinced that a letter was the right course of action.
"I see this as, again, a regulatory agency that is charged with the responsibility of making the determination and we are lining up like sheep, saying, 'Oh, golly, this guy's going to do this,'" he said. "Why do we have to get in line and why do we have to do that? I see it as a self-interest of the (M)PCA, not a self-interest of the county's."
Morris said that he felt the MPCA needed the county's support if it went ahead without approving a CON for the project.
"If they (MPCA) lose, then we lose worse than they do," he said. "If the MPCA loses, they're not out the money, we are."
Before the board cast its votes, Thiede said, "Sometimes, an occasional vote is just to make a statement." The board authorized the letter to be sent to the MPCA in a 4-1 vote, with Thiede opposed.