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Fate of county landfill up for debate yet again

January 16, 2019 GMT

The fate of the Butler County Landfill is currently at stake.

After its first application regarding potential expansion was denied in 2015, landfill officials recently submitted another application to the Butler County Board of Supervisors seeking approval.

That approval could extend the landfill’s lifespan by 30 years, while a denial could ultimately result in the facility’s closure.

A public hearing regarding possible expansion approval for the Butler County Landfill is scheduled for 4 p.m. Jan 30 at the David City Auditorium, 699 Kansas St. If the event gets canceled or needs to be extended, a backup/extension date has been set for Feb. 6, at same time and at the same location.

The plan is to expand the landfill by 160 acres moving south from the current site, with 110 acres being utilized for waste disposal. This would expand the life of the facility by decades. Landfill District Manager Kelly Danielson said the 145-acre landfill is expected to reach capacity sometime around 2024. If this happens, he said the landfill would most likely have to close.

In order to forward its application for an expansion to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the landfill must first seek the approval of the board. If it finds all of the six criteria is met, the board is expected to approve the application. If the board rules that even just one is not met, the application would be denied and landfill officials will have to wait a few years to reapply.

In 2015, the board by votes of 4-3 and 7-0, respectively, said that criteria one and two were not met, so the application was denied. A year later, the landfill appealed the denial, and in 2017, Butler County District Judge Mary Gilbride ruled the application should have been approved.

But in March, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in favor of the board, stating the lower court lacked the jurisdiction, so the denial was reinstated. It should be noted that the higher court did not rule on the merits of the lower court’s decision, only that it lacked the proper jurisdiction since the landfill did not follow procedure when it appealed the board’s rejection.

The first criteria is in regard to whether the expansion is necessary to meet the needs of the area, while the second asks if the landfill is properly designed to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare. The landfill is located about 5 miles from David City, in Butler County Supervisor Gregory Janak’s District 6 territory. He said he plans to go into the hearing with an open mind. Because the trash from the landfill will remain in the country forever, he said his main concerns are with how additional trash will affect the community.

“I have concerns as a private citizen about health and environment,” Janak said. “And the water and the odor weigh on my mind.”

The landfill was started by Tom Kobus in 1986, shortly after David City closed its landfill and started sending its waste to a facility in Seward County. In 1999, Waste Connections Inc. acquired the landfill. In 1992, the landfill only took in waste from Butler, Saunders, Colfax and Platte counties, according to The Banner-Press archives. Today, the landfill accepts 550,000 tons of waste per year from about 20 counties, as well as from Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Janak said that he and many of the board members feel that the landfill wouldn’t need to expand if it only took in Butler County waste.

“Our main issue with that is, yes, we do need someplace for refuse to go for Butler County residents,” Janak said. “We don’t’ feel Butler County Landfill has to be that big to support our county.

“It’s grown way beyond our realm of what we thought would happen to the site. We don’t want to be hosting everyone’s else’s (refuse).”

Danielson, however, said that only taking in waste from Butler County would be unreasonable.

“It’s a relatively large regional facility. It’s never been the local town Butler County Landfill. The regional area that we serve needs us, and that’s what we’ve been trying to demonstrate,” Danielson said. “What the county is trying to say is that this is a Butler County landfill and if you didn’t take all the waste from the region, then you wouldn’t need to expand. But if you do the simple math, there are 93 counties in Nebraska, and there are 22 landfills. They’re all regional type facilities.”

If the expansion is denied and the landfill does reach maximum capacity, it could potentially become a transfer station as the Sarpy County Landfill became a few years ago, collecting trash to transport to other landfills. But Danielson said the facility is too small to justify the need, so it would most likely close.

The landfill employs about 20 people, another 15-20 indirectly as truck drivers for other businesses or mechanics who work on maintaining equipment. Danielson said their annual payroll is about $900,000 and that they spend $2.3 million in Butler County, including taxes. If the landfill is closed and the trash is sent out of the county, Danielson said costs to the average consumer could go up by as much as 30-40 percent.

“It’s significant. You’re obviously going to have to transport waste from David City to 30-40 miles away,” Danielson said.

Janak said the board is aware of the consequences of the landfill closing. He said there are many things to consider, such the environment and quality of life for county residents.

“It would be a concern, yes,” Janak said about the landfill closing. “I do think we do have other options though.

“ ... Nobody wants a landfill in their backyard. And I want Butler County Landfill to be good stewards living in the community.”

If the landfill were to close, Janak said the board has looked into sending the county’s trash to the Pheasant Point Landfill or the City of York Landfill, both more than 50 miles away from David City.

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.