County committee approves GFL waste hauler permit despite recommendation to deny

VIROQUA, Wis. – In February, the Vernon County Infrastructure Committee approved a waste hauler permit application for GFL Environmental to haul waste in Vernon County despite a recommendation from the Solid Waste Administrator to deny the permit.

The Infrastructure Committee oversees the county solid waste department and all haulers who haul waste to the county landfill are required to get a permit from the solid waste department. At the February 13 Infrastructure meeting Solid Waste Administrator Stacie Sanborn recommended not approving a permit application submitted by GFL Environmental based on a letter included with the permit application from GFL’s attorney.

Sanborn said she had received an application from GFL on Jan. 2 to license two of their trucks along with the letter. Sanborn read the letter to the committee which stated: “On behalf of GFL enclosed please find an application for a 2024 Veron County Solid Waste hauler license. By applying for this license GFL does not admit to the enforceability or validity of the terms of the hauler license, the hauling license ordinance, or any associated waste hauler agreement. GFL reserves the right to challenge and object to the terms of the hauler license, the hauling license ordinance/rules in any waste hauler agreement.”

Sanborn explained that the only waste the GFL was bringing to the county landfill at that time was from the city of Viroqua because they city asked that their waste be hauled to the county facility, and the city paying the tipping fees directly to the solid waste department. According to Sanborn all other GFL waste was being hauled out of the county. GFL has a transfer station in the city of Viroqua and owns a landfill in Eau Claire.

The county has been struggling to keep volumes high enough to bring in enough revenue to cover the cost of operations. GFL has historically been the largest hauler in the county and built a transfer station in 2018. Once their hauling agreement ended with the county at the end of last year GFL has stated they will be hauling their waste to their own landfill that they own and operate in Eau Claire. To read our previous stories about the solid waste department attempts to stabilize volumes and approve an expansion project here and here and here.

“I would like the committee to deny the permit application for GFL Solid Waste Midwest,” said Sanborn. “I would like to invite them to reapply when they are willing to accept the guidelines listed in the application and pay the permit fees.”

Vernon County Board of Supervisors Chair and Infrastructure Committee Chair Lorn Goede

“I think it’s pretty cut and dried,” said Committee Chair and County Board Chair Lorn Goede. “If you want a permit you pay for the permit, if you don’t want the permit you don’t pay for the permit then you don’t get the ….”

Sanborn said if GFL is not permitted to haul in the county they would need to pay the residential tipping rate of $120 a ton. Permitted haulers are paying around $60 a ton.

“So that’s pretty cut and dried,” said Goede. “If you don’t have a permit you pay the fees. Anybody got any different ideas? Otherwise we’re going to have to give everybody that brings unpermitted garbage up there the $60 a ton break.”

Supervisor Charlie Jacobson asked how that would impact the city of Viroqua that has a contract with GFL to haul all its waste. Goede said the city will still be billed the $60 a ton directly. Sanborn said the permit is a standard permit that is the same for all haulers and includes basic requirements like putting a tarp over loads and wearing safety a vest when on site. The permit does not require minimum volumes.

“If we approve an application for a hauler that gives zero legitimacy to all the guidelines that all the other haulers, and that are have already sent these in, and they are abiding by daily. It null and voids our agreement,” said Sanborn.

Vernon County Supervisor Charlie Jacobson

Jacobson asked for clarification if the additional cost over $60 a ton would be charged to the city or to the hauler. Sanborn said the city would be permitted but they would accept their waste but of the hauler was not willing to be permitted they would be charged the $120 a ton rate for anything hauled in not under the city contract.

“Right now all of the state licensed waste haulers have sent me an application and permit fees with no issue,” said Sanborn. “I received no letter like this from any other permitted customer.”

Goede said the application did not include the required fees.

“So is the problem here that the money wasn’t paid for the permit?” asked Supervisor Kyle Semke.

Sanborn said the agreement is standard language has nothing that would warrant a letter stating “does not admit to the enforceability or validity of the terms.”

Semke asked GFL General Manager Bill Meeks to speak to the terms of the agreement and what the objections were. Meeks said he believed the letter was referring to flow control or any requirement the county might have that would require hauling waste to the county facility and the day to day operational requirements.

Vernon County Supervisor Kyle Semke

“I see no inference of flow control in there,” said Goede. “We’re not saying it has to come to Vernon County. There’s no inference of flow control. Just that if you’re bringing it here. These are the terms.”

“Bill, it sounds like what you’re is regardless of signing like….you’re stating as a representative of GFL you’re not going to bring any other garbage anyway whether you sign this or not?” asked Supervisor Alycann Taylor.

“Yeah, that’s our intent,” said Meeks.

“No burnt down houses?” asked Goede.

“Well we have a transfer station so the intent is to run everything through our transfer station,” said Meeks.

Meeks clarified the intent of the letter included with the permit.

“We’re not saying we’re not going to follow it,” said Meeks. “We’re just not… (reading from the letter) does not admit to the enforceability or validity of the hauler license ordinance…”

“I have to agree that they’re not saying that they’re not going to abide,” said Semke. “They’re just not admitting, as a GFL, as an entity, is not admitting to the validity…”

“They’re saying they’re not going to follow it,” said Goede.

“No they’re not,” said Semke.

“I received with the application for a 2024 Vernon County solid waste hauler license,” said Sanborn. “(reading from the letter) We do not admit to the enforceability or the validity. That’s the one that got me was the validity part. And then has the right to challenge and object to the the terms of the hauler license, which that’s what this is.”

“That’s not saying we’re not going to abide by the day-to-day operating rules,” said Meeks. “It’s just, we reserve the right to object.”

“I don’t think we should deny him a permit,” said Semke.

Supervisor Taylor asked County Administrative Coordinator Cassandra Hanan her opinion of the letter.

“If there were a other contracts, other things in the county, and we we received a letter like this, how do you think it would be received or responded to?” asked Taylor.

“I’ve seen this and it didn’t raise any red flags for me,” said Hanan “Anyone, like Charlie said, anyone has the right to even after they sign this agreement challenge it. They didn’t sign anything waiving that right. No one did.”

County Supervisor Martha Olson

“So what you’re saying then, with leasing our ag land, if we got a cover letter with the bid, that that wouldn’t have been a problem?” asked Goede.

“Not if they signed the contract,” said Hanan. “Because they could still, they could still say we reserved the right to challenge this. Anyone can. Anyone can reserve the right to take anyone to court on anything. That doesn’t mean they didn’t sign the contract and that a judge isn’t ultimately going to find them liable. But by signing the contract that makes the conditions valid.”

“This is written by their attorney,” said Supervisor Martha Olson. “And I feel any attorney would probably have the same language in any agreement.”

In the end a motion to approve the GFL application passed on a voice vote.

Members of the Infrastructure Committee include Lorn Goede (chair), Martha Olson , Paul Wilson, Charles Jacobson and Kyle Semke.

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