Landfill permit concerns neighbors

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 28, 2003

Bill and Bonnie Ryther haven't given up.

Their farm is located within a stone's throw of the access road to the Veit Companies demolition landfill site along U.S. Highway 218 north of Austin.

The farm has been in the Ryther family since the mid-1800s or near the time Minnesota became a state.

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The couple obtained a conditional-use permit, or CUP, to operate their own demolition landfill, when two others appeared on the Lansing Township landscape around

Although they never developed a landfill, their permit gave them until 2005 to do just that.

Now, on the eve of Tuesday night's Mower County Planning Commission debate of a neighboring landfill operator's application to renew its permit and expand the Veit landfill, the Rythers are rescinding their CUP.

"We originally got the CUP in the hopes it would deter the county from granting another in such close proximity to us," begins a statement from the Rythers.

"Obviously, this did not work and, in fact, the CUP now is being used against us by Veit and our arguments against the new Veit landfill."

The Rythers also said they will request an Environmental Impact Statement by petition for the Veit landfill.

They cited their concerns for "potential lasting effects on the groundwater, environment, and surface water draining into the Cedar River."

The argument over the landfill has gotten personal. Between the lines of the debate it's a "he said, she said"-style war of words.

D. Scott Vandenheuvel, environmental manager for Veit Companies, is expected to argue the case for the conditional-use permit renewal and expansion Tuesday night.

On the question of anticipated increase in the in-flow of debris material, Vandenheuvel said there will not be more than a 3 percent hike.

Monitoring wells already in place have not detected any groundwater pollution dangers. An aquifer lying deep below the landfill is untouched. A real estate impact analysis says the landfill does not adversely impact the property values of neighboring landowners, according to the Veit environmental manager.

In response to every query on the county planning commission's "findings of fact" questionnaire, Veit has an answer and, Vandenheuvel pointed out, proof of an "exemplary compliance record."

Taking it personally

Bill Ryther's baby twin-sisters, who died at birth, are buried on his farm.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that he takes any threat to the farm personal.

He can be moved to curses or tears, when discussing the dilemma he and his wife face.

Ryther and his wife, Bonnie, became thorns in the side of township and county officials when the landfill controversy was born. Now seven years later, they haven't softened.

"I can't go outside when they're working in the landfill. The dust is so bad. We pick up garbage all the time that blows onto our property. We can't open the windows or the dust blows inside. You try living like that some time," Bonnie Ryther said.

She covers the kitchen table with photographs: before the landfill and after.

"Before they came in 1996, that was a field of grass hay and dry," she said, pointing to a large color photograph of lush, green grasses. "Now, look what it has become."

The other pictures show standing water in place of the grasses.

The Rythers have spent more than $5,000 to correct drainage tile problems, they say, were created by the Veit landfill.

"I don't know how much time and money we've spent fighting this thing," Bonnie Ryther said.

The Rythers also claim garbage from the landfill blows onto their farm and lodges in the hayfields, which they bale and sell.

"That's our livelihood," said Bill Ryther, explaining bales of hay with paper and plastic wedged in them are not highly sought after.

Their main concern is the potential for surface water drainage problems and they say the county's own geological atlas will confirm the Lansing Township land is more permeable and, therefore, a threat to contamination of the water that lies beneath.

Most of all, they wonder, as Bill Ryther said, "Why doesn't Austin care? This is going to be their problem sooner or later."

As far as the Veit spokesman boasting of the planting of 4,000 trees, Bill Ryther said, "That's one of the conditions of their permit. They were supposed to do that from the beginning. It's the law."

"Besides," he added, "they're pine trees. It's going to take at least 30 or 40 years before they mature and

amount to anything."

"And," he suddenly remembered, "that's the second planting they've done of trees. The first ones died right after they planted them. That tells you something about what's in the ground."

With a Veit landfill sign along U.S. Highway 218, the Rythers have arrived home to find bags of garbage left in their driveway.

"They think we're the landfill," Bonnie Ryther said.

The couple have computed how much the landfill can accept. The figure is staggering: 2,440,000. "That's 488 football fields 65 feet deep," she said.

"That green space hill they're talking about will be 65 feet high," Bill Ryther said.

Because county planner and zoning administrator Daryl W. Franklin has prepared a staff report that already lists conditions of approval for the county planning commission to include when/if they approve the CUP request Tuesday night, they are critical of Franklin.

"It looks like they (Veit) are making an end-run around the law and everybody. Franklin has the permit all ready for the planning commission to approve. All this makes you wonder if somebody isn't benefiting by the apparent ease which they are having in getting the permit renewed," Bill Ryther said.

The Mower County Planning Commission meets 7 p.m. Tuesday in the county commissioners' meeting room at the government center in Austin.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at