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Early support for suing county ahead of Cortland Township vote

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 4:56 p.m. CDT

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CORTLAND – After meeting with attorneys in a closed session, Cortland Township electors will call a future special meeting that could set the stage for a lawsuit against DeKalb County.

Roughly three dozen attended a meeting of township electors at the Cortland Lions Club building on Tuesday to receive an update on ongoing legal efforts to stop the county’s landfill expansion – located within Cortland Township boundaries – and consider its own lawsuit against the county to stop the expansion. Electors are registered voters who are township residents.

Meeting organizer Frankie Benson said there was more than the 15 residents’ signatures needed to call a special meeting of all interested electors to take an official vote on whether to sue the county for ignoring the township’s vote to block the expansion.

Most people who attended also showed support for pursuing legal action when the vote comes, she said.

“Just about everybody was on board,” she said.

The special meeting will take place 14 days from Tuesday at the earliest and 20 days from then at the latest as required by law. Benson said she would negotiate the date of the meeting with the township supervisor today, but noted it must also start after 6:30 p.m. as required by law.

One hurdle to the lawsuit is how to fund the legal costs, which could range anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000, Benson said. She said initial funding concerns were resolved during the closed session but more discussions would take place at the special meeting.

When the time to vote does come, Jennifer Watrus said she would vote to sue the county. While there are financial costs to taking legal action, she said it is not as expensive as the price residents would pay with their health should a landfill expansion occur.

“Would you rather get hit with the finances or have your children sick,” she said. “You have to weigh those things out.”

Citizens hoping to stop the expansion are banking on a section of the state’s township code that states electors have the right to prevent the disposal of garbage and other offensive substances within the limits of the township.

The statute has never been challenged in court.

Though she cannot vote, Maple Park resident Amy Evans said she hopes the expansion is stopped either through legal challenges or other means. She said the deterioration of air quality and the water supply was a concern and other costs such as the maintenance of the roads from the increased garbage-truck traffic is not being considered.

“Who is paying for all this and the roads that will need to be repaired,” she said. “I just don’t think they should be bringing garbage in from Chicago.”

Another legal challenge could also stop the expansion as Stop the Mega-Dump’s lawsuit against the county claiming unfair proceedings in the landfill decision is waiting to be heard by the Illinois Supreme Court. Group leaders Mac McIntyre and Dan Kenney told residents there was only about a 5 percent chance the case would be heard.

Regardless of the outcome, Kenney said all citizens should stay engaged with local and county leadership to push for cleaner alternatives. He said the county could move toward a zero-waste policy that would keep garbage out of the landfills and disposed of through alternative technology that would convert trash to energy.

He said with Waste Management’s chief executive officer recently saying the company is investing exclusively in that alternative technology, the possibility exists.

Joe Basset, who was vocal against the landfill expansion during his failed run for county board in 2012, said he would stay active in the campaign to end landfill.

“I don’t think dumping our garbage under ground is the best human thinking has to offer,” he said.

County officials have said the landfill expansion could generate $27 million to expand the overcrowded jail. The money would be raised through tipping fees from accepting out-of-county trash. No landfill expansion can happen until all legal challenges are finished.

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