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Court upholds county landfill expansion

DeKALB – DeKalb County could move ahead with landfill expansion plans after the 2nd District Appellate Court issued a ruling in favor of county board procedures that resulted in a 16-8 vote in favor of expansion.

The ruling comes after more than two years of legal challenges from citizen-led, anti-expansion group Stop The Mega-Dump, which argued that the county restricted public access at hearings, that board members participated in improper private tours of Waste Management facilities and prematurely supported the expansion before the completion of public hearings.

Board Chairman Larry Anderson, R-Malta, said he was glad to see the long legal process come to an end, and it would be up to the next county board – of which he will not be a member – to decide on how to move forward.

"The appellate court has ruled completely in our favor," Anderson said. "What else is there to say? The county did it right."

In a unanimous opinion, the three-judge appellate panel found that the Illinois Pollution Control Board was correct in its ruling that county proceedings were not fundamentally unfair. The opinion states there are restrictions allowed in public hearings, although the county waived those restrictions at the public hearings.

County board members also were allowed to participate in a tour of another Waste Management landfill because the tours occurred before the company filed its expansion application and the county had outlined multiple methods to pay for a planned jail expansion, leaving no evidence of a predetermined judgment, the opinion states.

Although board members were aware the county would gain new revenue from expanding the landfill, they also were aware they could be voted out of office by an unhappy public, the judges wrote.

"Revenue or other financial considerations are irrelevant to a prejudgment inquiry because neither the local siting authority nor its members will realize and enjoy the additional potential revenue," the opinion states. "[Board] members are subject to public disapproval, as elected members can be turned out of office."

Although the ruling is a legal victory for the county board, the court battles could continue.

Dan Kenney, organizer of Stop the Mega-Dump, said the group would now have three weeks to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, but members would need to seriously discuss that option, which would require more legal fees for representation. There also is no guarantee the court would hear the case.

Kenney said a second option could be legal action on behalf of Cortland residents. Cortland Township voters opposed the landfill expansion and Kenney said legal action could be pursued as that vote might not have been considered properly.

"We're very disappointed in the ruling," Kenney said. "Right now, we are just going to be weighing our options."

If the county landfill expansion moves forward, it still is unclear whether increase tipping fees from the landfill expansion would be used to fund a nearly $30 million jail expansion.

Stop the Mega-Dump members have long argued the primary purpose of the expansion was to fund the jail expansion, but John Farrell, then-assistant for the DeKalb County State's Attorney Office, told judges no decision had been made.

Anderson said the new county board would decide how to fund the jail expansion, but added he hoped members would not look to raise taxes through a referendum.

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