Most agree the whole landfill siting process is flawed. Those who favor the current proposal obviously feel its benefits outweigh its consequences. Those living closer to the landfill are afraid some of those consequences are too risky to be subjected to. They’re even more frightened that consideration of those consequences were glossed over in favor of the benefits some might enjoy.
It’s hard to find much consideration for the residents of Cortland and surrounds by those in charge of approving the application.
The Town of Cortland entered into an agreement with Waste Management that forbid town officials from objecting to the siting application (or from assisting anyone else who might object). That certainly eliminated some key expert witnesses any objectors might have had to refute testimony being offered by Waste Management’s paid experts. Evidently, in Illinois, the rules allow that sort of thing.
Cortland Township trustees voted formally and unanimously to reject any expansion of the landfill in a March 9, 2009 resolution to the County Board. A township garage packed with more than 200 registered voters (electors) overwhelmingly rejected the expansion at a special annual meeting held in May, 2010. Apparently, even though the trustees and citizens of Cortland Township were relying on the authority provided the township under the Illinois Township Code (60 ILCS 1/30-120), which reads, “The electors may prevent the deposit of night soil, garbage, or other offensive substances within the limits of the township. This section does apply to refuse disposal facilities regulated by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the county in which the facilities are located,” there’s no law to protect them from the county… according to the county.
The benefits received by those using the DeKalb County Courthouse or the jail, plus those visiting the county forest preserves, outweigh the consequences students, teachers, parents and neighbors of the new Cortland Elementary School might experience should problems arise.
Many have questioned the logic, or sanity, of siting a new grade school so close to an existing dump, already known to be leaking, much less one that leaks and has designs for a sevenfold expansion. A review of Town of Cortland meeting minutes strongly suggests that the location had much more to do for the benefit of passing a referendum than any would be consequences of building a school next to the landfill.
District 428 School Board President Mike Verbic and former Superintendent Paul Bielfuss asked the Town of Cortland to support the referendum (they aren’t supposed to do that). The Town of Cortland told District 428 they wouldn’t support the referendum or sign on to an impact fee agreement unless a grade school was built in Cortland. Verbic told the town trustees that the referendum would be reduced by $15 million, and no school would be built in Cortland, if they didn’t sign on to the impact fee agreement by the deadline.
What’s missing is any discussion of the landfill or possible consequences.
Three of the four county board members representing the two townships closest to the landfill voted against it – (Mark Todd and John Gudmunson, District 11 – Pierce Township; Ken Andersen, District 3 – Cortland Township). Yet, we are supposed to believe that those three board members erred in their vote and evaluation of Waste Management’s siting application. To paraphrase Riley Oncken (District 3 – Cortland Township), “I had to vote yes because the application met each and all of the nine criterion specified…”
Common criminals can skate on a hung jury. If the landfill expansion is approved by a simple majority vote of a board told to act as a jury don’t fault Cortland residents for thinking they got railroaded.
Staff and members of the jury negotiated a host fee agreement with Waste Management prior to the submission of the siting application. No public hearings on the matter were conducted before the application was filed. One public hearing was conducted after the filing. Minimum standards of public notice and engagement were applied.
County Administrator, Ray Bockman, in a letter to IPCB Hearing Officer, Bradley Halloran, wrote:
Opponents of the actions of the County Board have frequently either misunderstood or misinterpreted the laws of this state with regard to the Host Fee agreement process. I understand their confusion and agree with them that this process merits change. The landfill expansion opponents need to stop blaming the County Board and start petitioning the Illinois General Assembly. The County Board followed the law to the letter — as it must.
Perhaps it is the proponents who have misinterpreted the law? Or misunderstood its intent? In either case Mr. Bockman agrees the process needs changed. But after reminding the IPCB that the application must be approved in 180 days he suggests residents start petitioning the Illinois General Assembly but do so only to save those in other communities because the County and Waste Management have a legally binding contract.
Maybe it is time to petition IL House Representative Bob Pritchard, and IL Senator Brad Burzynski for their help in preventing a process that needs to be changed from irrevocably rolling the dice of consequences on those they were elected to protect. Who knows? Governor Pat Quinn was once known as a champion for the underdogs.
Cortland and Pierce Townships and all their good neighbors shouldn’t wait for the March decision of the IPCB to organize an effort to get legislative and judicial action if necessary. A process that is known to be flawed can be manipulated. The consequences are too grave. This is a mistrial. And if allowed its a miscarriage of legislative duties.
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