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Planners approve landfill hours extension

A request to allow the local industrial landfill to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week for two specific customers was approved by the Cloquet planning commission Tuesday.

The motion passed by a 3-1 vote, with new commissioner Michelle Wick the only “no” vote. Wick lives near the SKB Environmental landfill in the neighborhood near Hilltop Park, and had suggested the commission table the request so she could have time to do some research.

The vote is an advisory one: the final decision rests with the Cloquet City Council. City planner/zoning director Al Cottingham said the council will hold a work session on the subject at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, and likely vote on the request at its next meeting Nov. 1.

It wasn’t the first time the landfill has asked for an extension of operating hours outlined in the original 2011 conditional use permit. In 2014, the hours were extended to 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays on a trial basis. In 2019, the planning commission recommended approval of a 24/7 request for paper sludge only, but the city councilors voted to deny the request, citing concerns by the residents. At the time, Ward 1 councilor Bun Carlson said a lot of people are “opposed to extending anything for the landfill, including hours.”

No citizens spoke Tuesday regarding the landfill public hearing, although there were nearly a dozen people in the audience.

The landfill was controversial when it was originally proposed, as it lies in a large industrial pit between the Hilltop soccer fields and Interstate 35, near the residential Antus Addition neighborhood.

In his staff report, Cottingham said the landfill operators are asking for extended hours only to transport paper sludge from the soon-to-reopen Duluth paper mill, and coal ash from Minnesota Power.

SKB’s Kyle Backstrom said the company paid for a noise study this summer overseen by the city, the third in the past 11 years. The landfill operation is well within permitted limits, according to the studies, he said.

Backstrom added he feels the landfill is often blamed for noises coming from other businesses within the pit, which include gravel pits, a Sappi storage yard and at least two asphalt plants.

Backstrom said he expects the sole overnight truck driver to make a maximum of six trips a night into the landfill, with each one lasting about 10 minutes. They expect the paper mill to reopen in December, he said, and the new owners want SKB to handle the waste from pickup to disposal. In the past, they have had to use other landfills or store waste overnight.

Wick expressed concern that if the city allows the landfill to operate all hours of day and night, others in the industrial pit will want to expand their hours of operation.

“We can’t go backwards from 24/7,” she said. “I deal with the noise, the pollution, all this stuff on a daily basis in the summer.”

Wick advocated for a trial run of the extended hours, “before we just push this through,” she said.

Cottingham said the variance could include a review in a year, or sooner if there are multiple complaints.

Backstrom said SKB completes an annual review of its conditional use permit, which is reviewed every five years by an outside consultant to ensure conditions have been met. He said they would have the driver log the times for entering and exiting the landfill, in case there are complaints from neighbors, who live roughly 1,400 feet away.

Commissioner Elizabeth Polling moved for approval, including a review of the extended hours in a year, but not another public hearing, and the vote passed 3-1, with commissioners Mark Cline and Terri Lyytinen also voting “yes.”

“I think I’m satisfied with the situation not being disturbing or causing a public nuisance, considering the steps SKB has taken of hiring consultants and getting the data,” Polling said.

In other matters Tuesday, the commission:

• Approved a sign variance for the Lucky 7 at 201 Doddridge Ave. The request was for three signs instead of two on the gasoline pump island canopy, and sized 4 feet by 4 feet instead of the 3 by 3. Cottingham said the city could approve. Cline voted against approval, noting that he worries that variances can “snowball, essentially making standards more difficult to enforce.”

• Unanimously approved a 6-foot security fence for the DNR property in the city’s Business Park of Highway 33 North. The city council will vote Tuesday on the request.

• Unanimously approved a new lot configuration for two lots at 1519 Airport Road, owned by Patti Arras. The new configuration will create lots that are 4.7 and 1.3 acres in size, both with access to Airport Road (currently one lot is landlocked). Several neighbors were in the audience and asked questions. Arras said the property will have more value with the new configuration. Cottingham recommended approval, although planning commission members and neighbors pointed out the commission had denied a similar request from another neighbor earlier this year.

The planning commission is down to five members instead of the normal seven after chair Uriah Wilkinson stepped down after serving more than 11 years. Cline would also like to step back, because he is often out of town. The commission is seeking two or three new volunteer members. Contact Cottingham at 218-879-2507 with questions. The next meeting is set for Nov. 9.

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