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Old issue at landfill may cost taxpayers a bundle

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WILLMAR -- An underground plume of methane, likely caused by barrels of lead paint that were dumped in the landfill back in the 1970s, has been haunting the Kandiyohi County Commissioners for the last decade.

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On Tuesday, the commissioners were told that investigating the source of the contamination, along with potential rule changes at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, could cost county taxpayers as much as $1.1 million a year for the next decade.

"We thank you very much for this bad news," said Chairman Richard Falk, with obvious sarcasm.

Jeff Bredberg, county environmental services director, said he was "shocked" by the possible expenses for the landfill, which generates about $950,000 in annual revenue.

The paint, generated by a Willmar manufacturer, was disposed of before the county owned the landfill, which it purchased from the city of Willmar in the late 1980s, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

The paint was buried in an old section of the landfill before heavy plastic liners were required.

Terry Kaiser, from Environmental Concepts & Design, told the commissioners that test wells and research at the landfill have shown that the plume has been very predictable and not moving quickly.

A corrective action plan he developed for the county to find the source of the contamination was submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last spring.

But Kaiser said a new hydrologist at the MPCA who is involved with writing new rules recently questioned the movement of the plume and may require a more aggressive investigation and a more expensive contribution to the financial assurance fund, which can be used in the future when the landfill is closed.

Kaiser said he doesn't know how the MPCA can justify the additional investigation and possible costs, based on existing data.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the potential changes are "absolutely going off the page, in my opinion" and are "based on rules that are abstract at the best."

Gary Gilbert, also with Environmental Concepts & Design, said they were required by law to draw up a plan that shows the worst case scenario.

That plan includes all the possible corrective actions, including digging out the "hot spots" in the landfill that could be generating the plume and drilling test wells into the suspect site to see if the contaminants are still there or if they're below the sand and sitting on top of the aquifer -- a process estimated at $850,000.

The commissioners asked Kaiser to review the latest information with county staff and return with a recommendation next month.

In other action:

? The commissioners were asked to be prepared to make a decision on providing construction bonds for a veterans nursing home in Willmar if the state does not include the project in its bonding bill.

The federal government requires a 35 percent financial match for construction funds. Those matching funds can come from the state or the host entity.

The project was not included in the governor's bonding bill, but local legislators said they will lobby for its inclusion in the final bill.

? Because of concern with a new MPCA rule for septic systems, and because the final rules won't be completed until this summer, the commissioners delayed taking action on mandatory state rules that counties must adopt by Feb. 4. Failure to adopt the rules could mean losing financial grants. The commissioners will take up the issue on Feb. 2.

? County Attorney Boyd Beccue said his office will begin implementing a program to provide required disclosure documents to defense attorneys in digital form. Because some cases include more than 1,000 pages of documents, the system will save the county time, money and paper. New software will be paid for by revenue from forfeitures.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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