WASHBURN "Delighted" is how Dennis Kost of Washburn summed up his feelings and those of other opponents of an oil-field waste landfill after the McLean County Commission declined to permit the facility Tuesday.
After taking more than two hours of testimony, the commission voted 2-1 to deny the controversial permit request of Great River Energy to turn a flyash disposal site near Underwood into a landfill for oil-field waste.
Kost said people are not interested in accepting negative aspects of oil development without seeing the benefits. McLean County is a small producer with 46 oil wells, all on the western edge and none in the Underwood area.
Mick Johnson of Underwood addresses the McLean County Commission Tuesday during a hearing on a landfill permit for Great River Energy. Commissioners, from left, are Barry Suydam, Pam Link and Steve Lee.
Commissioner Pam Link of Washburn said she struggled to justify the landfill in a county not in the heart of oil development.
"I think, at this time, the county is not ready for this," she said, noting that the health department reports there already are 12 disposal sites to the west that are in use, under construction or in the permitting phase.
Greg Ridderbusch, vice president of business development and strategy for Great River Energy in Maple Grove, Minn., said the company accepts the commission's decision.
"It's part of the public process, and we respect that," he said. "It doesn't mean that that we don't hold the point of view that this was a very, very good project."
Great River Energy is a Minnesota-based cooperative that produces electricity from coal at Coal Creek Generating Station between Washburn and Underwood. The company has operated a landfill for flyash, a byproduct of burning coal, since the mid-1990s. Now with a market for flyash in industries such as road construction, the company seeks to repurpose the landfill.
Company officials explained that having another use would help persuade the State Health Department to re-permit the landfill when it comes up for its 10-year renewal in 2016. Ridderbusch said the most economical solution for the partially filled waste site is to upgrade it, fill it and permanently close it.
"There's a compelling need for safe and secure landfills," Ridderbush said. "The Section 26 landfill will use the right technology, will be run by disciplined, reliable operators Great River and will be a safe and environmentally secure place for the disposal of nontoxic, oil industry waste."
The landfill would have taken cuttings and drilling mud. Cuttings consist of soil and rock extracted during drilling and the mud contains chemicals and water used to cool drill bits and bring cuttings to the surface. None of the waste would come from out of state, Ridderbusch said.
The company also estimated the facility would draw about 30 trucks per day, routed along U.S. Highway 83. Turn lanes off the highway would be built for trucks turning onto the five-mile rural route to the site. The road would not pass any homes or farmsteads, Ridderbusch said.
More than 100 people crowded into court chambers in Washburn, including Great River employees and other area residents on both sides of the issue. Several people spoke against the permit.
Robert Rasmusson of Underwood called the landfill poor stewardship.
"They should pick up their application and leave. We don't need this," he said.
Jerry Tishmack, who lives near the site, said he likely would invest the $30,000 to replace his groundwater well with rural system water if the landfill is approved, even though he doesn't feel he should have to bear that cost just to have peace of mind.
"To be guaranteed a clean, safe drink of water a person should be able to have that," he said.
Before rejecting the permit, the commission added a stipulation requiring Great River Energy to work with the county and McLean-Sheridan Rural Water District on bringing rural water to the two-mile area around its landfill.
The permit also would have limited the landfill to accepting radioactive waste from the oil fields that tests no higher than 5 picocuries, a measurement that the health department deems safe for unrestricted disposal.
In the end, commission chairman Steve Lee of Mercer said opposition from Longfellow Township and the two soil conservation districts in the county, along with the increased highway traffic, persuaded him that the project should be rejected.
"I have gotten responses both ways," Lee said of public opinion regarding the landfill. "Probably overwhelmingly, though, the responses have been negative."
Commissioner Barry Suydam of Garrison voted against the motion to deny, indicating his preference for putting the matter on the ballot.
McLean has no statutory provision for a public vote. However, the commission can put an issue on the ballot to conduct a nonbinding poll. County auditor Les Korgel estimated a special election would cost $10,000 to $12,000.