Vernon County Board of Supervisors approves landfill expansion on 14-3 vote

Public comment portion of the meeting starts at around 20:45Landfill presentation starts at about 1:35 – Board discussion starts at about 2:05

VIROQUA, Wis. – After years of planning and months of contentious committee meetings the Vernon County Board of Supervisors approved Resolution 2023-67 – “Expand Municipal Solid Waste Landfill”. After debating the issue on the county board floor for nearly two hours the resolution passed by a 14-3 vote with Supervisor Will Beitlich absent and Supervisor John Pedretti voting present. Three Supervisors, Kyle Semke, Martha Olson and Mary Meehan-Strub all voted no on the the resolution.

For more detail on previous meetings regarding the expansion you can go to our previous article here.

The approval means the Vernon County Solid Waste department will now be able to move forward with phase one of the expansion with construction scheduled to be completed by late 2025. The expansion will include four more acres that will added to the existing 9.5 acre site in three phases. The expansion is estimated to handle all of Vernon Counties waste for the next 15 years.

20 people spoke during public comment on the resolution. 13 people spoke in favor of keeping it open and seven wanted it closed. Representatives from the towns of Hamburg, Genoa, Forrest, Coon, Union and the Village of La Farge all spoke in favor of the expansion. Many of municipal representatives spoke about the specialized services the local facility offers they would have to pay more for if it closes. Items like tires, appliances, paint and electronic waste. Many of the local town officials said one of the main reasons they wanted to the facility to stay open was to maintain local control of where their waste goes, and without the local option they will likely be dependent on a large corporation. They also expressed fear that in rural areas they could see a return to a time when their residents would throw garbage, and hard to dispose of items, in ditches or along roadways.

All the members of a Town of Viroqua committee working on negotiating a “town host agreement” that will set things like hours of operation, truck routes and litter control, spoke during public comment.

Retired Geologist Kelvin Rodolfo is a member of that committee and and lives about a mile from the landfill. He cited recent studies including one he conducted in the area that show that karst geology susceptible to hidden caverns and sinkholes. Rodolfo also expressed concern that should the landfill leak it could impact the water table serving the larger region including the city of Viroqua.

Committee member a neighbor AnnaJo Doerr said it is common to find stray wrappers and plastic items on her property and was fearful that a leak in the landfill liner would contaminate her well.

Engineer Brian Kent who helped put the feasibility study together would later comment that the study showed there is sufficient soil between where the bottom of the landfill would be and the bedrock below, as is required. Kent also said he not aware of any landfill following the standards of this landfill has ever leaked or caused contamination.

Supervisor Martha Olson read a letter from the town of Viroqua Board that stated they were against they expansion even though the township approved siting the facility in that township back in 1993. The letter also stated the town of Viroqua residents were concerned about the environmental risks.

“You have before you the opportunity to lessen the risks,” read Olson. “The town of Viroqua respectfully asks the county board to right the wrong of the past, and take steps to secure the future of the people of Vernon County.”

Supervisors Mary Meehan-Strub and Kyle Semke said they were concerned that projected volumes and income numbers were too unpredictable and that could lead to higher cost for the taxpayers.

The landfill has historically seen about 17,000 ton of waste per year. In 2018 the county changed its agreements with local haulers that no longer required them to bring their waste to the Vernon County facility. At that time the county’s largest hauler Southwest Sanitation built a transfer station and began hauling a porting of the county waste to other facilities. That caused a significant loss in revenue. In response, the county negotiated a lower tipping fee for Southwest in exchange for a commitment to bring 90 percent of their waste to Vernon County.

Since that time Vernon County Solid Waste Administrator Stacie Sanborn has negotiated direct contracts or Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with nearly all the local units of government in the county stating they will direct their waste to the Vernon Count facility.

Sanborn made a presentation of current and projected financials, and presented a 2,368 page feasibility study that was recently completed by the engineering firm Short, Elliot and Hendrickson (SEH). That feasibility study cost the county almost $400,000 and concluded that the expansion was environmentally feasible. The study has been submitted to the DNR for review. If that plan gets approved by the DNR the county can then move forward with planning and construction of phase one of the expansion.

Sanborn pointed out that airspace created by the expansion will be worth about $20-$26 million over 15 years based on current tipping fees. Sanborn said that at least half of that gets recirculated back into the community through employee wages, vehicle purchases and repairs. That equates to about $8.5 million in economic impact over 15 years that would mostly leave the county if the landfill closed.

Engineer Brian Kent with SEH said the study calls for a design on the expansion that goes above and beyond DNR standards. The DNR requires a four foot clay liner at the bottom of each cell, Kent said the expansion will have five feet of clay. The DNR requires a two percent grade at the bottom of the cells and this expansion will have a seven percent slope to help collect “leachate” at the bottom faster. All of the water that passes through the garbage is collected, pumped out, and trucked to a treatment facility in Sparta, La Crosse or Viroqua.

Later in the same meeting the board also approved a $300,000 loan to the solid waste department for a “plan of operations.” That plan is required by the DNR to and will include details of the daily operations for the expansion. The loan will be repaid to the county general fund over 24 months at five percent interest. Cost of phase one of the expansion is estimated at about $1.5 million.

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