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Landfill decision means Waste Management has months of planning ahead

Published: Friday, May 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

CORTLAND – Waste Management might spend months obtaining permits to expand its landfill in Cortland Township, after one legal battle against it ended and a smaller one continues.

Both Waste Management officials and those who oppose the proposal are planning their next moves after the Illinois Supreme Court decided Tuesday against hearing an appeal from the group Stop the Mega-Dump.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has to approve a construction permit for the landfill expansion, as well as a permit for the landfill to receive garbage, said Waste Management spokesman William Plunkett.

“It’s a very rigorous process in which the agency examines the engineering, so the design itself ensures the protection of the environment,” Plunkett said.

The approval of the expansion plan was upheld on appeal both by the Illinois Pollution Control Board and the state’s 2nd District Appellate Court. Opponents to the expansion said the approval process was unfair, and the DeKalb County Board’s approval was not based upon the available evidence.

Waste Management is planning to add 594 acres to its landfill located in the southwest corner of Cortland Township. The expansion would allow the landfill to accept up to 2,000 tons of trash a day.

With the Illinois Supreme Court declining to hear the case, Waste Management and DeKalb County officials believe the last legal hurdle has been cleared. But they did not know when the permits could be approved by the state.

“At this point, we do not know. It could take longer than a year,” Plunkett said. “It depends on the resources of the agency.”

Frankie Benson, who lives one mile away from the landfill, has formed the Cortland Township Electors’ Association, a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to fighting the landfill expansion.

Through her group, Benson and others are planning to use a section of the Illinois Township Code that says townships can prevent the deposit of garbage within township limits, including at garbage disposal facilities.

Benson said the law gives the township veto power over the Illinois EPA, which regulates landfills. Cortland Township board members passed a resolution opposing the landfill expansion in 2010.

“It’s a lawsuit in a way, but it’s asking the court for an interpretation of the township code,” Benson said. “To us, it obviously says that we have the right to refuse garbage. It’s plain English right there, even a higher power than the IEPA has. I guess what comes into play is, how well did we follow the township code when we made a motion to refuse the landfill.” 

Benson said she has already raised $20,000, and has set a deadline of June 21, when the group will determine its plan of action.

Both Plunkett and DeKalb County Administrator Gary Hanson said they would address any legal challenge as they appear.

“We don’t anticipate any further legal hurdles. If there are, we will deal with them as they arise,” Hanson said.

The expanded landfill would be able to accept trash from as many as 17 other counties, which would allow the county to collect tipping fees. DeKalb County is planning to use these tipping fees to fund an expansion of the county jail. But when the jail expansion would begin is still unknown, Hanson said.

“We’ll be putting together our financial package of the jail, how we might structure a bond issue,” Hanson said.

• Editor Eric Olson contributed to this report.

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