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County Board changes as landfill expansion delays continue

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 4:55 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 12:15 a.m. CDT

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DeKALB – A potential injunction against Waste Management could present the latest delay in landfill and jail expansions for a DeKalb County Board that is not as united behind the projects as it had been.

The county will not face a lawsuit from Cortland Township, which instead could seek an emergency injunction against Waste Management, said Frankie Benson, organizer of the Cortland Township legal fight. A judge would be asked to interpret a statute that could give townships more authority than county governments in landfill decisions, Benson said.

The township voted against the landfill expansion before the county approved it.

Although the county would not be sued, the potential legal maneuver – pending a vote from Cortland Township residents – would still delay a project many board members expected to be finished by now.

Ruth Anne Tobias, D-DeKalb, said the new legal threat combined with the Stop the Mega-Dump lawsuit at the Illinois Supreme Court level has been frustrating. She said it is especially damaging to the proposed jail expansion, which already has designs approved by the board. The board had planned to use $27 million in tipping fees associated with the landfill expansion to fund the jail expansion.

"We could have been started already with the jail expansion, but we need the funds," Tobias said. "It is very frustrating people find the landfill expansion so problematic."

But since the landfill expansion was approved in 2010, some supporters have left office, while people who find the project problematic have been elected to the county board.

Mark Pietrowski Jr., D-Cortland, is the only county board member from Cortland and has been opposed to the expansion since it was first proposed. He said because the county would not be sued, he would consider voting in favor of seeking an injunction at the Cortland Township meeting that has yet to be set.

Pietrowski said he believed the board decided to expand the landfill with only the jail expansion in mind and with no thought to potential environmental hazards. It also seemed like a backdoor method for a jail expansion since voters denied referendums for a new jail multiple times, he said.

"I'm not keen on taking in garbage from 17 counties," he said. "Overwhelmingly, the people I have talked to are not for it."

For some new board members, the issue remains unclear. The board still has to officially vote on the tipping fee revenue as the funding source for the jail expansion but cannot do so until the landfill expansion occurs.

When and if that vote comes, Misty Haji-Sheikh, D-DeKalb, said these next few months of researching and speaking with people would help shape her opinion.

"My first duty is to learn as much as I can about it," she said. "We all want to do what is best for the county and the citizens." 

The county has been pursuing a jail expansion to address overcrowding issues. More than $1 million a year is spent on transporting and housing inmates to other county jails.

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