As you probably have figured out by now, landfills (toxic, special waste or just plain old house trash) are not very popular even in North Dakota except with the people who want to own/run them.
By Pat Merriman
For the DC Herald
In fact, our own State Legislature, despite a spate of new statutes on corporate hog farming, itself has plainly stated in the “landfill code” that “The people of North Dakota have a right to a clean environment, and the costs of maintaining a clean environment through the efficient environmentally acceptable management of solid wastes should be borne by those who use such services.” 23-29-01(1), NDCC. “Inefficient and improper methods of managing solid wastes create serious hazards to the public health, result in scenic blights, cause pollution of air and water resources, cause accident hazards, increase rodent and insect disease vectors, have an adverse effect on land values, create public nuisances, and otherwise interfere with community life and development.” 23-29-01(3), NDCC. And, because of the unpopularity of landfills, the state has even provided a mechanism for the people in a county or city to stop the installation of such a land use if EVERYONE gets a say in a special election. Not, just the landowners next to the project, the whole county.
This North Dakota, county-wide, voting process has already been approved by the US Supreme Court in City of Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises, Inc., 426 U.S. 668, 96 S. Ct. 2358, 49 L. Ed. 2d 132 (1976), which said that, “Neither [Eubank v. City of Richmond] nor [Washington ex rel. Seattle Title & Trust Co. v. Rob¬erge] involved a referendum procedure such as we have in this case; the standardless delegation of power to a limited group of property owners condemned by the Court in Eubank and Roberge is not to be equated with decision making by the people through the referendum process… This procedure ensures that all the people of a community will have a voice in a decision”.
A simple look on the Internet shows that this is a new hot-button issue with voters, particularly, with claims of radiation and ground water. Many citizens just flat don’t trust oil companies or the government when it says, “trust me. I’m here to help you.” And, fortunately, North Dakota (like most enlightened jurisdictions) provides a relief mechanism for such controversial projects which is codified at section 23-29-07, NDCC. “For any permit application…the department [of health] shall notify the board of county commissioners [where] a new [landfill] will be located of the department’s intention to issue a permit for the facility. The board of county commissioners may call a special election to be held within sixty days after receiving notice from the department to allow the qualified electors of the county to vote to approve or disapprove of the facility based on public interest and impact on the environment. If a majority of the qualified electors voting on the question in the election vote to disapprove of the facility, the department may not issue the permit and the facility may not be located in that county.”
As laid-out by the state Health Dept. (NDDH) in its flow chart, the procedure for the 2 companies that want to open 2 of these special waste landfills in Dunn County (Calgary’s Secure Energy Services and Big Ski Environmental) is as follows. First, a pre-application review by NDDH which confirms that the site can arguably be located in the local zoning scheme, legal access to the property is held by the applicant, and topography and site assessment are acceptable to NDDH. Second, if NDDH approves the pre-application, the application is received and recorded. Third, the applicant publishes notice of the foregoing. Fourth, the application is reviewed by NDDH for completeness. Fifth, a copy of the application is forwarded to a state Review Committee for its recommendations. Sixth, an Application Technical Review and Compliance Assessment Document with all preceding recommendations is prepared and Review Committee recommendations are attached. Seventh, a draft permit is prepared and NDDH issues a Notice of Opportunity for Public Comment and Public
At that point, this notice of the NDDH’s intent to issue a permanent permit is forwarded to the Dunn County Board of Commissioners. Then, our commissioners decide whether or not a special, county-wide election will be held on the matter and, if so, it must be held within 60 days with sufficient notice of the special election published before it is held. If the voters decide (by a simple majority) that a landfill is not coming to Dunn County on any particular project, the matter ends and the permit from NDDH is denied. If the special election is not called, the NDDH takes final action on the permit, it is approved and the project moves forward. If the public hearings (including, presumably local zoning requirements) sway NDDH to deny the permit, that ends the matter too. Of course, the applicant can appeal the matter to District Court if the permit is denied but, in the case of a special election, the matter would most likely be fruitless unless there was some defect in the special election format. Still a long way to go on these two projects and, it appears that a lot of Dunn County residents have something they want to say in the meantime. Time will tell.