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Legislators wrestle with landfill bills

BISMARCK -- North Dakota legislators struggling to enact laws that would allow new landfills to be sited while not running roughshod over rural residents considered two bills Thursday.

Rep, Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, who also is on the Grand Forks City Council, has a bill that would create a neutral state body that would decide where a new landfill could be put.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, has a bill that allows townships to vote on whether they would OK placement of a landfill in their locality. He said he wants landfill placements to be separated from the zoning laws that cities use to control use of land outside their boundaries.

Both bills had a hearing Thursday morning, but neither received action from the committees that are considering them.

There are 13 regional landfills in North Dakota, down from 111 municipal dumps and landfills in the 1980s, a state Health Department official said. After that, the federal government enacted strict new environmental laws and most closed, and no new landfill have been started since 1989, said Scott Radig, head of the Health Department's waste management division.

He said the number will drop to 12 when the Grand Forks landfill closes this summer.

A landfill, he said, "has to go somewhere. Nobody wants a landfill near them but you have to (have a place to) process solid waste."

He said that judging by Grand Forks' experience, a township of 100 people can vote to prevent siting of a landfill needed by a city or region of 100,000 people. A city can buy land and spend $2 million to $3 million and then have the project stopped when a township votes for a new zoning ordinance that bans landfills in its jurisdiction, he said.

Some city official at the hearing said they expect the bill could be turned into an interim study.

"We've all watched with great fear what's happened in Grand Forks," said Dickinson's public works director, Ken Kussy.

Cook's bill, Senate Bill 2382, was roundly opposed by the League of Cities and several officials from cities when it was heard in the Senate Political Subdivisions Committee.

"This bill would make an already difficult process impossible," said Jerry Hjelmstad, staff attorney for the league.

Cook is trying to get some power restored to local governments because, he said, the Legislature created a problem for them when it allowed large cities to extend their zoning out four miles from their boundaries.