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Six hours - that’s how long the public forum lasted at the David City Auditorium on Jan. 30, 2019.

And representatives of the privately owned Butler County Landfill spoke for four of them.

It was a chance for the landfill to argue its case to the Butler County Board of Supervisors in favor of a 160-acre expansion, extending the lifespan of the site by 30 years. More than 50 county residents were also present, waiting hours on a Wednesday to speak to the board either for or against the project.

The landfill is owned by Waste Connections and takes in 550,000 tons of waste per year from about 20 Nebraska counties, as well as from Council Bluffs, Iowa. In a previous interview, Landfill District Manager Kelly Danielson said the 145-acre landfill is expected to reach capacity sometime around 2024. If this happens, he said the landfill would most likely have to close.

In order to forward its application for an expansion to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the landfill must first seek the approval of the board. If it finds all of the six criteria are met, the board is expected to approve the application. If the board rules that even just one is not met, the application would be denied and landfill officials will have to wait a few years to reapply.

In 2015, the board by votes of 4-3 and 7-0, respectively, said criteria one and two were not met, so the application was denied. The first criteria involve the necessity of the project, and the second, potential health and safety impacts.

Landfill officials spent the vast majority of their presentation in regard to these two criteria points. Once finished, the board allowed Shawn Zablocki to speak. With more than 25 years of experience in environmental, health and safety management, he was hired by the board as an outside consultant to review the application to see if it meets the criteria standards.

His presentation focused on criteria one and two. He told that board the landfill could have had more detail and made stronger arguments for its approval on both points in its application. The consultant concluded his presentation by saying he believed all other criteria had been met in the landfill’s application.

Next to speak were those from the public in favor of the expansion. Nine people spoke in favor, ranging from business owners to workers whose jobs would be affected by the landfill closing. Dale Johnson of Johnson Trucking Sand & Gravel & Excavating in Columbus and Rex Rehmer of Rehmer Auto Parts in David City said they needed to keep the landfill open for their jobs.

Robert Kobza, owner of Callaway Rolloffs in David City, put it more bluntly. He told the board a large portion of his business was hauling construction and demolition debris to the landfill.

“Without the landfill being open, we’re out of businesses. The economics are not there to be able to transport garbage to York or Coalition (Landfill),” Kobza said. “That is a critical part of what we do, and once again I’ll stress, without the approval of the expansion, we’re done.”

The landfill itself employs about 20 people, another 15-20 indirectly as truck drivers for other businesses or mechanics who work on maintaining equipment. Danielson said its annual payroll is about $900,000 and that they spend $2.3 million in Butler County, including taxes. All that would go away if it were to close.

In a previous interview with The Banner-Press, Danielson said prices for waste collection and disposal could go up for the average consumer by as much as 30-40 percent if waste was sent elsewhere. The landfill is about 5 miles away from David City, with the next closest, like Pheasant Point Landfill or the City of York Landfill, being more than 50 miles away.

Five people spoke to the board against the expansion. Their concerns were mostly focused on the environmental impact of the landfill on the area and the constant amount of trash ending up on the properties of nearby residents.

Saunders County Sheriff Kevin Stukenholtz told the board that his county has had a constant problem with trash being left along the roads as garbage trucks drove through to the landfill. He asked the board to impose harsher fines and regulations to deter trash from falling out of these trucks.

Larry Behne told that board that he lives a quarter mile east of the main road leading into the landfill. He said he was unhappy with the trash that gets left along the roads. While the landfill does pick it up, having to deal with trash constantly thrown about is exhausting, he said. Another nearby resident, Steven Rech, agreed.

“Garbage blowing through my fields, which I do commend Kelly and his employees for cleaning it up, but should I have to deal with this at all?" Rech asked. “Smells and putrid odors have become worse in the last months to a year, at times to the point of being sickening ... I have lived in this area all of my life and in the worst of my nightmares, thought I’d never be dealing with this.”

William Veach spoke neither for or against the landfill, but said he has a problem with the dust created from the traffic along the gravel roads leading to the landfill, especially County Road Q. Veach runs a cow/calf operation and estimates about 45 acres of his hay are ruined by the dust produced from various travel. He asked the board to approve the landfill expansion and pave the road, adding his requests to the board to pave the road over the years have fallen on deaf ears.

“I don’t like dirt in my food, my cattle don’t like it either. At this point, I’m sick of the whole matter. You’re going pave the road, pave it, give them their expansion and leave me alone,” Veach said. “I’ve had it, I’m sick of it all. Give them the expansion, pave the road, you won’t hear anything from me again. Just take care of it. I’m counting on you to do the right thing.”

The public record will be left open for the next 30 days following the public forum. People can submit written comment on the project to the Butler County Clerk either in person or by mail through that period. Once closed, the board must vote on whether or not the application meets the six criteria by April 29. This can be done either at the board's standard bimonthly meeting or at a specially designated meeting. District 1 Supervisor David Mach said the board will review the application and vote on the matter when it can.

“There’s a lot to comprehend in that time,” Mach said. "And we’ll have to go look through all this stuff and try to make a decision.”

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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Eric Schucht earned his bachelor's degree in journalism at the University of Oregon in 2018. He has written for The Cottage Grove Sentinel, The Creswell Chronicle, The Pacific Northwest Inlander and The Roseburg News-Review.

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