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Clock ticks for landfill opponents

Published: Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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(Jeff Engelhardt – jengelhardt@shawmedia.com)
Jeff Jeep, a potential lawyer for Cortland Township, explains the strength of a case against Waste Management regarding a landfill expansion to electors Thursday. Electors voted to pursue legal action only if supporters can present the needed $60,000 to the Cortland Township Board for legal costs.

CORTLAND – Private donations likely will be needed for Cortland Township residents to pursue potential legal action Waste Management.

At a special township meeting of more than 75 people, electors decided any challenge to a proposed landfill expansion should be funded by supporters; the legal challenge could cost up to $60,000. Supporters of the landfill expansion hoped a special tax levy would be an option but a late, major change altered the course of Thursday’s meeting just as it began.

Frankie Benson, organizer of the special meeting, planned to propose a special tax levy to help raise the funds needed to pursue legal action against Waste Management should the electors have voiced support.

But she said she learned late in the process that proposing a levy would require a referendum. Because the deadline to submit items for a referendum on the April ballot was Jan. 22, Benson told those in attendance that would no longer be an option to fight the landfill expansion.

To attempt to find a funding source, the proposed item asked electors to vote on whether the Cortland Township Board should pursue legal action. By giving the board the authority, the board could use money it has in reserves or implement a levy under its authority.

“This is the most grassroots form of government here,” Benson said. “It’s on us to monitor the board.”

Jeff Jeep, the potential lawyer for the township, said legal costs would not exceed $60,000, regardless of how far the case went in the legal process. He pointed to a 1992 language change that could give townships authority over Illinois Environmental Protection Agency permits regulating garbage disposal within their boundaries.

“If you value your authority … I’m willing to fight for it,” Jeep said. “I think you have a good case.”

Some residents were skeptical of giving the township board authority to raise and spend money.

Resident Susan Dockus suggested electors give the township board authority only after lawsuit supporters present $60,000 to the board, essentially asking for a tax-free fundraising effort before any money is authorized to be spent on lawsuits.

That proposal eventually passed.

Supporters concerned with waiting to raise the funds privately believed they wouldn’t have enough time. If the Illinois Supreme Court does not hear an existing challenge to the landfill expansion by Stop the Mega-Dump, Waste Management would be free to begin the expansion. The court is expected to make a decision by March.

“If we wait, it is going to start,” Benson said.

While the intent of some electors was to avoid a levy or the use of township funds, some supporters hope the annual township meeting of electors in April will provide another opportunity to direct the board to use funds for legal challenges.

The DeKalb County Board approved a landfill expansion in 2010 that would allow Waste Management to receive garbage from 17 counties. The additional revenue would provide the $27 million needed to expand the DeKalb County Jail.

The county board’s approval came despite an official stance against the expansion from Cortland Township.

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