Board OKs landfill expansion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 11, 2003

"I said at the beginning of this it wouldn't be over until the fat lady sang," said William Ryther. "Well, she sang, but she hit a sour note with me."

Ryther was reacting to the Mower County Board of Commissioners' 3-2 decision to grant Veit Demolition Landfill Facility Austin LLC renewal of its conditional use permit in Lansing Township and to allow the firm to expand its operations by 51 acres.

The twin requests had been opposed by William and Bonnie Ryther, who live on a 155-year-old family farm adjacent to the site, as well as Perry and Nancy Byam, who live immediately north of the site.

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So unpopular were the requests, not a single person -- with the exception of Veit's environmental manager Scott Vandenheuvel and attorney Jack Perry -- spoke for the request Tuesday.

"I think the issue was adequately heard by the county commissioners, but I don't think all of the information they had was considered," William Ryther said.

"All the issues and information concerning this request were given consideration," said Garry Ellingson, 5th District county commissioner and chair of the county board. "The conditions placed on the CUP -- if enforced -- offer the citizens of Mower County a lot of protection."

Ellingson voted for the permit's renewal and expansion with David Hillier, 3rd District, and Ray Tucker, 2nd District. Richard Cummings, 1st District, and Dick Lang, 4th district, voted against the measure. Lansing Township is located in Cummings' district.

"I'm disappointed," Cummings said. "I hope this decision will not come back to haunt us."

Hillier described the controversial issue and the Tuesday decision that brought apparent closure to the issue a "very tough decision."

He said the strict conditions placed on the request will work with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's staff enforcing them.

Tuesday's decision ends two months of debate and discussion.

The Mower County Planning Commission voted 4-2 with one abstention in April to recommend approval of the request.

The Lansing Township Board said the request should be denied until the township has its own comprehensive plan in place. Already, the township has an interim zoning ordinance, but needs a comprehensive land use plan to guide the township board members in deciding how to deal with the urban sprawl coming from Austin.

The city of Austin also argued against the request, saying it would adversely impact on the city's plans to develop the former Cook Farm site, now called the Austin Business Park.

The Rythers said the demolition landfill was dangerous to the environment and would diminish their land values if allowed to expand. The Byams joined in the opposition.

Meanwhile, Veit's representatives argued they could not be prohibited from expanding. According to them, all of the opposition was unfounded and the "not in my backyard" argument was not allowed by Minnesota courts.

Both sides inundated the county commissioners with reference materials. No less than 16 items were submitted, plus three new reference materials Tuesday morning.

For that reason, the county commissioners asked Veit to waive the 60-day ruling on making a decision and they did.

The public hearing on the issue was continued until Tuesday morning.

William Ryther was allowed to speak at Tuesday's hearing and again he alleged the expanded landfill would threaten the water quality.

Ryther also submitted research into the 51-acre parcel of land Veit has acquired to triple the size of its operation.

Lastly, he implored the county commissioners to look over the certified appraisal material he submitted.

Lang interrupted Perry and Vandenheuvel at one point to quote Benjamin Franklin. "Bad leadership occurs when one bad decision is followed by another bad decision."

Lang was alluding to the original granting of two permits for demolition landfills within a quarter mile of each other in Lansing township.

Lang said he opposed the renewal and expansion request.

Then, Cummings made a motion to deny the request based on the expected dimution of property values. He was forced to withdraw the motion because it had been made -- although not adopted -- at a previous county board meeting. Cummings then made another motion to deny the request, charging Veit had violated the conditions of its existing permit.

Lang seconded it, but "Aye" votes by Cummings and Lang were negated by three "Nay" votes by Hillier, Tucker and Ellingson.

More debate ensued until Tucker made a motion to grant the request with 19 conditions.

The most contentious condition seemed to be the setback. Jon W. Erichson, Austin's city engineer, suggested a 200-foot setback from the right-of-way of U.S. Highway 218. Tucker went with a 182-foot setback from the road's centerline.

After Perry, the Veit attorney, kept interrupting and attempting to correct Tucker, the commissioner had heard enough.

"I'm going to set the conditions and you're going

to work with them," he said at one point.

Hillier seconded Tucker's motion and when the vote was taken, Lang and Comings voted gains tit and Tucker, Hillier and Ellingson -- after a long pause -- voted for it.

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