The Kankakee County Board voted 14-10 on Tuesday to keep the door open to garbage from Cook County — but likely not to proposals for landfills.
The board debated the matter for more than an hour before voting to defeat reinstatement of a moratorium on solid waste proposals, which was lifted two years ago. Landfill opponents have long sought resurrection of the ban.
"They want to keep the options open, but they want to limit what those options are," said Matt Whitis, county board vice-chair, who urged a clarification of the board's position. "I want to take this off the table and focus on our bigger issues."
The issue has dogged county officials since they hired a $20,000-per-month consultant in search of proposals two years ago, when the ban was lifted. The effort was unsuccessful, the consultant is gone and there are currently no proposals in place.
Landfill opponents, some of whom spoke in favor of the ban during public comments, have organized township residents in opposition to landfills. To date, 14 of Kankakee County's 17 townships have voted to approve ordinances banning proposals within their borders.
"The bottom line is honoring and respecting the residents of these townships who have voiced an opinion," said Darrel Bruck, president of OUTRAGE, a taxpayer watchdog group which opposes landfills.
The bottom line was somewhat different for county officials. Efforts to lure a solid waste company here are largely financial. A landfill proposal the county board considered a decade ago would have generated an estimated $120 million in tipping fees over 25 years, but was voted down.
Whitis, who represents portions of Bourbonnais, said establishing a clear position on the ban would both answer critics and allow the community to see where the board stands. He voted in favor of the ban. But beyond keeping the county open to new proposals, what exactly the board decided remains a little unclear.
"We're struggling a bit with the particular language," said Mike Bossert, Kankakee County Board chairman, who represents Limestone Township and voted against the ban. The board sent the matter back to the planning, zoning and agriculture committee to hash out what type of proposal they might be willing to accept.
Board members who supported keeping the door open to new proposals said they were opposed to a landfill, but might be receptive to new technology. William Olthoff, the county board member who represents portions of Bourbonnais Township, has toured such a facility in Leesburg, Fla. It burns garbage to generate electricity and recovers all the recyclable metals.
He voted to keep the door open while acknowledging any viable proposal would require outside waste.
"The volume they need to make it work economically and efficiently would require waste from outside of the county," Olthoff said.
Bruck told The Daily Journal his organization would likely support a proposal that does not involve burying any garbage. Most solid waste proposals involve landfills, even when a greater portion of the waste is recycled or used in other ways, Whitis said. Exploring which options would be acceptable is part of the committee's work.
The board members who supported the ban said they are against importing outside waste and have heard much opposition to it from their constituents.
James Stauffenberg, the board member who represents Manteno, voted in favor of the ban saying his constituents have been very clear on the point. He argued lack of a ban would allow solid waste companies to propose landfills even if county officials didn't want one.
"I'm tired to hearing about it," Stauffenberg said. "Without a moratorium what's to keep them from coming forward with another landfill?"
What they said
Kankakee County Board members who voted to keep the county open to solid waste proposals
James Vickery – Momence – District 2
"It would be interesting if Newton County (Ind.) said, 'we don't want Kankakee County's garbage any more.'"
Michael LaGesse – Bradley – District 21
"I find it somewhat morally incomprehensible that it's OK to dump our waste on someone else while it's not OK to take someone else's waste."
Todd Sirois – St. Anne – District 3
"I am not in favor of a pile of garbage, but I don't want the county to slam the door on a waste-to-energy proposal. I'd hate to do something to limit new technology."
Kankakee County Board members who voted to reinstate a ban on solid waste proposals
Matt Whitis – Bourbonnais – District 20
"I don't think it should stay open. It's been open for two years and nothing has happened. If someone has a viable plan they're gong to reach out and we can do what we did two years ago."
Larry Enz – Kankakee – District 13
"We have 14 of our 17 townships who have voted not to have a landfill. The townships are united. There will be a lengthy battle wherever it goes to. We do not have the last word."
Patrick McConnell - Bourbonnais – District 27
"It's the people who elected me. I'm taking their position."