Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Residents dispute expansion

HAWLEY, Minn. -- Clay County wants to expand its landfill in Hawley Township. But some neighbors surrounding the site think the County Commission should trash the idea. It's a fight that could eventually land the county in court. "We have...


HAWLEY, Minn. -- Clay County wants to expand its landfill in Hawley Township.

But some neighbors surrounding the site think the County Commission should trash the idea.

It's a fight that could eventually land the county in court.

"We have a lawyer involved right now," said Everett Nelson, Hawley Township supervisor. "He is laying the groundwork as far as what rights we have."

The landfill, which is located about seven miles southwest of Hawley, is projected to be filled by spring 2005.


The county, after exploring several alternatives, decided in November 2002 to purchase an additional 10 acres of land next to the landfill.

Officials have since applied to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for a permit.

If allowed, the site would satisfy the county's garbage needs until 2019.

Two groups -- neighbors surrounding the landfill and Hawley Township Board officials -- have complaints about the project.

Ron Ekre, who lives next to the landfill, is worried about pollutants leaking into the water table.

Ekre said the county should open a new landfill away from water.

"It's a bad spot for a landfill," he said. "The terrain there is sand and water. It just seems like we are fighting nature."

And pollutants are leaving the site, according to the MPCA.


"There are two plumes of contamination leaving the Clay County landfill site, one migrating to the north-northwest, and one to the west, towards a wetland," said Daniel Olson, a spokesman with the MPCA.

The contamination is not, however, leaking into residents' drinking water, said Steve Menden of Roseville, Minn.-based Sebesta Blomberg, the engineering firm that advises the county on landfill issues.

"Based on well water testing the county has done for residents in the area, there is no evidence the landfill is causing contamination," he said. "That testing was done on the county's own initiative."

Environmental regulations requiring the landfill to be lined with a 2-foot clay base, plastic liner and a leak detention system, weren't required until the 1990s -- after more than half the landfill was filled.

To treat the contamination, the county has planted trees along the western perimeter of the landfill. Under the right conditions, tree roots can take up and eliminate the contamination, Olson said.

The county also plans to dig up a portion of the landfill that is unlined and bring it up to current standards.

Ekre contends that even if the pollution is stopped now, the buffers will eventually break down and either again cause contamination or have to be replaced.

Olson said there is "no absolutely fail-safe method" of lining landfills."


"But the liner planned for the Clay County landfill will carry a multi-decade guarantee," he said. "In addition, wells along the perimeter will remain in place and monitored to detect any leaks should they occur."

It will cost the county about $4 million to bring the site up to regulation, Menden said. That would be paid for over the life of the landfill.

It would cost more than $5 million to try and permit a new site and take years of planning, Menden said. And once that happens, the county would still be responsible for maintaining the Hawley Township site, he said.

Hawley Township

Township board officials are upset about the project because they feel the county did not involve them enough in the expansion planning process.

"They have never brought anything formally to our board," Nelson said. "We're not saying we'd oppose it we're not saying we'd approve it. We are neutral on it until someone brings something to us."

Nelson said the board would need to hold a public hearing before taking a position on the issue.

Township board members believe they have the legal grounds to stop the expansion -- if they choose -- because after the landfill was opened in the 1970s, the board passed a zoning ordinance that prevented the landfill from expanding beyond its current footprint.


Clay County Attorney Michelle Winkis believes the county is on sound legal ground, should the township take the county to court.

She said court cases exist that have allowed a county "in balancing of public interests" to supercede township ordinances.

County officials also believe they have worked with the township.

There is a Hawley Township board member, for instance, on the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee. That member was on the board before the county purchased the additional 10 acres of land.

"To say the county has kept them out of the loop is not true," said Clay County Administrator Vijay Sethi said. "There is not an intention on behalf of the county to ignore the township or any of its members."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Baird at (701) 241-5535

What To Read Next
Get Local