By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
A landfill in downtown Boyne City?
According to Charlevoix County Planner Larry Sullivan, that is not out of the realm of possibility if Charlevoix County officials do not recreate their own county-wide solid waste plan.
“We have been watching the solid waste legislation because, at some point the state is going to mandate the plans be updated,” Sullivan said. “An easy out is to let the State of Michigan develop the plan. I’ve seen some of the plans the state has written for other counties, and they basically said do anything you want anywhere you want.”
He added, “You could put a landfill in downtown Boyne City, downtown Charlevoix or downtown East Jordan and local communities would have virtually no say in the matter.”
The subject came up during the recent joint session of the Charlevoix County Board and the Charlevoix County Planning Commission.
The American Waste sanitation transfer station is currently one business that may feel the bite of the county’s current solid waste plan.
Sullivan said there are currently two issues which need to be resolved with the American Waste trash collection facility in Charlevoix.
“One is the issue of the screening. Last fall, going into winter, that was really not a good time to be planting the necessary vegetation, and American Waste are desirous to comply but they want to know exactly what they have to do and they also don’t want to plant materials at a time of year where they will have a short life expectancy … and I certainly understand that,” Sullivan said. “The other issue, and maybe the more significant issue, is the use of buildings on the property which can impinge upon the setback of the area that was established in the solid waste plan for transportation facilities. The one building that the planning commission discussed and felt at the time the best way to resolve it was either to not use that building or to move the building they have been using it where it’s located.”
Sullivan said the county’s solid waste plan also requires a six-foot solid fence to be erected around the property to reduce the amount of debris which is blown into neighboring properties.
The vegetation screen is intended to hide the complex from view.
Sullivan said he has had discussions with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and American Waste may update their site plan, but not amend it.
“The other issue is they do want to … expand the transfer station and reclassify it to a Type A and … process the waste at the facility as well,” he said. “The county can send a letter to the DEQ saying it does not comply with our solid waste plan and the DEQ would not allow their expansion, and so that’s a hammer we do have that doesn’t involve me going out and trying to enforce it, a sheriff’s deputy going out and enforcing it or the DEQ going out and enforcing it.”
American Waste co-owner Eddie Ascione said his company has no compliance issues with the MDEQ, but that he is aware of the fencing issues discussed by Sullivan.
“I don’t believe we have any setback issues and we’re wrapping up all the landscaping this spring,” Ascione said.
The expansion Sullivan spoke of would be a recycling center located at the American Waste site, but Ascione said that is a tentative plan for the future.
Sullivan said the company has been cooperative, and he would like to see American Waste expand their facility to include a recycling center that would process cardboard, cans, plastic and glass.
“I have toured their (American Waste’s) facilities in Kalkaska and Grand Traverse County and I am very impressed with what they are doing to reduce the amount of waste going to solid waste landfills,” he said. “It’s not a situation where they’re trying to duck anything or avoid complying.”
American Waste currently employs at least 20 people in the Charlevoix-Petoskey area.
Sullivan said American Waste could eliminate the alleged setback issues if it requests a rezone from the current agricultural designation to commercial zoning.
Christensen said the county should put “teeth” in the plan to help with enforcement or modify the plan to allow the facility to come into compliance.
The planning commission has received a new site plan and will address the situation during their April 12 meeting.
Sullivan said the county’s waste plan must be updated every five years.
Sullivan said the county may develop a solid waste plan, and if they do not choose to then local municipalities may do so. If they choose not to then the responsibility will go to the regional planning officials and if they do not choose to develop a plan the MDEQ will create a plan and the county will be forced to adhere to it.
“You will live with whatever they create whether you like it or not,” Sullivan said. “The county boards in the past have chosen to have the solid waste plan developed at the county level.”
Charlevoix County Planning Commissioner Denny Jason asked if the new fencing or vegetation barrier couldn’t be erected without redoing the plan.
But, Sullivan said the law requires a barrier fence.
Charlevoix County Board Chairman Joel Evans said common sense dictates that the fence simply be erected.
Sullivan reiterated that American Waste is interested in complying with the law.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen said the problem with the county’s solid waste plan is that they have no ability to enforce it.
Sullivan said state personnel are out inspecting facilities across the state, but they are not necessarily looking to ensure they are in compliance with the local levels of government.
Evans asked if there had been any complaints.
Sullivan said there have been some telephoned complaints from some of the neighbors about the sanitation transfer station’s hours of operation, but no official written complaints have been received at this time.
Ascione said he hasn’t had any complaints from neighbors to the site.
Sullivan said the process to update the solid waste plan could take up to a year and cost the county many thousands of dollars.
In addition to requiring a nearly two-thirds approval of the local units of government, a 14-member paid oversight panel would be required to be formed in order to monitor the creation of the new solid waste plan.
“Quite honestly I think some of the requirements in the solid waste plan are very onerous,” Sullivan said. “It requires a sold fence but the purpose of the fence is to take care of blowing debris – but a solid fence acts like a hill and air comes along and goes over the fence carrying leaves and debris with it.”
Sullivan said he has requested the county’s personnel and internal government board direct their legal counsel to research the matter to determine if a an exception can be made.
Currently the county’s solid waste plan is far more stringent than what is required by the State of Michigan.
“In reality if the plan needs to be changed I think we need to take a hard look at it,” Christensen said. “If it’s the desire of the planning commission to develop an enforcement mechanism then let’s talk about it.”