Board set to vote on landfill request

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 5, 2003

If owners of the Veit Demolition Debris Facility-Austin, LLC gets their way, Bill and Bonnie Ryther said they will have to go their own way.

They fought the zoning law, but the law won could be the outcome of a seven-year-old dispute.

The Rythers are the couple who battled long and hard albeit unsuccessfully to, first, block Veit from even locating a small landfill next to their 155-year-old farm and now also thwart a new request for renewal of a conditional use permit, or CUP, to expand its landfill by 51 acres.

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They allege the landfill is a danger to the environment, does not allow them to enjoy their own property next door and could impede other use and development of the surrounding property. Also, the amounts of industrial waste being deposited in the ground also worry the Rythers, according to their testimony.

Thus far, county officials have not bought the argument.

"We're still hopeful," Ryther said on the eve of Tuesday's county board hearing. "You never know …"

The latest landfill request to spark their opposition was heard last Tuesday night by the Mower County Planning Commission. The seven-member commission voted 4-2 to grant the Veit request. One commissioner abstained from voting.

The commission's recommendation of approval goes before the Mower County Board Tuesday, but there is already a snag.

On Saturday, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board informed all sides in the dispute that the state is referring a request for an environmental assessment worksheet to Mower County. The county must decide whether one is needed or not before ruling on the CUP request from the petitioner.

Whatever the county decides, Tuesday, it's clear: If the Rythers and their supporters lose this battle, they will have lost the landfill war.

Bill Ryther reluctantly shared tile maps with Veit's representative Friday at the advice of legal counsel.

His land stands between the 80-acre parcel of land owned by Wally Bustad, who has already, through a proxy, Maryls Clark, acquired the 51 acres, which, in turn, was sold to Veit to allow the present expansion to proceed.

But Ryther is adamant about refusing to sell his land to be developed into a landfill. "Not in my lifetime."

Also to be decided at the meeting are five other CUP requests.

John Sheedy and Raymond and Janet Quandt want the county board's permission to construct homes in wooded areas in Lansing Township. Carol Kline wants permission to move a mobile home in Lyle Township. Garwin McNeilus wants permission to construct wind towers on a farm in Adams Township.

After waiting three hours last Tuesday night for the Veit request to be discussed, four of the five CUP petitions were handled in barely 15 minutes time. The Sheedy request took only five minutes to decide at the outset of the marathon meeting a week ago.

The Mower County Board meets 1:15 p.m. Tuesday to decide the land use issues.

Neighborhood changes

The entire rural neighborhood around the landfill in Lansing Township is changing.

Robert W. Peterson, a former out-spoken opponent of the landfill, sold his farmland to Clark, according to Veit spokesman, Scott Vandenheuvel and now Veit owns it. This is where they plan to expand.

Everett and Katie Hays have also sold their property to Veit, according to Vandenheuvel. The company plans to open a new office in the brick home that was the Hays'.

SKB, Inc. of St. Paul has operated a demolition landfill without incident in the area. It's also visible from the highway running past the Rythers and Byam farms and the Veit landfill.

The Rythers announced last week, they plan to have their own CUP for a demolition landfill rescinded.

Veit's landfill will be the largest and it will be next to U.S. Highway 218 north of Austin.

For the defense

Vandenheuvel, who is also the environmental manager for Veit, defended his employer's past performance before the planning commission.

"Veit has proven it can run an exemplary facility," he said. "There is a need for this facility," and that it is consistent with the county's comprehensive plan.

Vandenheuvel concluded Veit had met all conditions of the original CUP and added the Lansing Township location is "the best hydrologic and geologic area you could put us."

When the non-voting planning commission chairman David Hillier, 3rd District county commissioner, allowed the opposition to speak, there was plenty.

For the prosecution

Cletus Ratigan, who farms west of the Veit site, disputed claims the landfill operators have fulfilled all conditions.

Dwight Ault, another area farmer, was "dumbfounded," he said, at the lack of communications between the parties in dispute and local citizens.

To be sure, the Rythers, armed with documents, photographs, copies of letters and other paperwork, argued at length against the Veit request.

After Vandenheuvel described the anticipated hill of landfill debris that will be created on the site as a "landscaped mound of green grass," Bonnie Ryther said, "Putting a pile of dog crap on a plate and covering it with whipped cream and a cherry doesn't change anything. Garbage is still garbage."

The Rythers stuck t issues such as possible ground water pollution concerns. They also announced they will seek an environmental assessment worksheet from the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board for the site.

Commission chairman Hillier had the task of keeping all sides in the dispute on-track. The growing chasm between the county and the township emerged when Roger Levy spoke.

Red Rock, Udolpho and Lansing are three townships with their own interim zoning ordinances. Lansing is working on its own comprehensive land use plan, because, Levy said, concerns about the urban sprawl from Austin clashing with agriculture.

'Unique situation'

"Lansing township has its own interim zoning ordinance and I hope you will respect it and recognize we have a unique situation in our township," Levy said.

The township supervisor asked for more time, while the township studies and adopts a comprehensive land use plan. "I don't think we should even be considering offering a CUP for something like this until we know what kind of comprehensive land use plan the township will have."

Hillier asked Eric Herndeen, the chief deputy Mower County attorney, sitting in for Mower County Attorney Patrick W. Flanagan, for an opinion on the township's attempts to control its own destiny with the ordinance and comprehensive plan.

Herndeen said his interpretation of Minnesota law indicates the county's own ordinance and comprehensive plan superseded the township's.

More criticism of the landfill came from John Bramwell, a member of the Mower County Soil and Water Conservation Board. "I see no benefit at all to this county by this landfill."

Ken Penkava, a Lansing Township supervisor, urged the Veit expansion be permitted on a per-cell basis to ensure compliance with the conditions and protection of the environment.

Perry Byam, who farms immediately south of the Veit site, said a landfill on the edge of Austin is a "deterrent" to the image of the city.

When the request returned to the commission members for their final examination, Harold Boverhuis, a Lansing Township Board member, peppered the petitioner with questions. He also verified the permit -- if granted by the county board -- essentially becomes a permanent permit for Veit.

Myles Bendtsen and Barb Hovde, the commission's investigative committee, visited the site and told commission members they were impressed.

"I think they have pretty well met all the conditions placed on their original permit," Bendtsen said.

Bill Ryther said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has told him the landfill's lifetime phasing could be better controlled "if it were permitted one-cell at a time."

He also had praise for county planing staff and the county commissioners at last Tuesday's meeting for "treating me fairly" and for "being there and educating themselves on this matter."

Daryl W. Franklin, county planner and zoning administrator, recommended to the commission approval of the request with 10 new conditions to add to the 14 applied to the original CUP issued in 1996 and eight others added to an amended CUP issued in 1998.

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