WisBusiness: Dairyland Power meets with landfill opponents

By Gregg Hoffmann

VIROQUA – Dairyland Power Cooperative representatives emphasized Wednesday they are exploring every alternative to dumping coal ash byproducts from their Genoa plant in a landfill.

But, they might end up with no other alternative, and if so they will likely face a fight from landowners and others concerned about the environmental impact of such dumping.

About 200 people who showed up at a public meeting at Viroqua High School Wednesday made it quite clear they don’t like the way a possible landfill site has been explored by Dairyland, and will oppose the establishment of such a site.

“I think they thought we were a bunch of hillbillies,” said Scott Leum, one of the landowners whose property has been designated as part of a possible 600 acre landfill. “But, a lot of people have done their homework on this. We’re organized and are ready to take action to fight this if necessary.”

Leum said the group has started a web site, which has drawn a lot of attention, and plans to put up billboards south of La Crosse and north of Genoa opposing any landfills. Up to 11 landowners could be affected directly by a landfill, and many others near the possible sites have concerns about pollution of water and soil. Several of the landowners are organic farmers.

Dairyland officials maintain they need to consider a landfill site because some of the byproducts from the Genoa plant, once scrubbers are installed to clean up air emissions, cannot be recycled. Dairyland currently recycles 80 percent of its ash byproducts into concrete and road materials, but the lime waste and other substances used in the air cleaning process cannot be recycled, the co-op representatives maintain.

The issue became public when Dairyland representatives approached several landowners in the Town of Harmony about running tests on their properties to see if they would be suitable for landfill sites. Some of those landowners said they did not want to sell and brought the issue to the media.

Some landowners have reported that Dairyland representatives told them ‘you’ll have to sell to us eventually” and have threatened to exercise eminent domain.

Brian Ruud, director of external relations for Dairyland, and others from the co-op struck a significantly different tone Wednesday. They said alternatives to a landfill will be fully explored. They also said Dairyland will do an Environmental Impact Statement, even though one is not required. The co-op had talked about doing only an Environmental Assessment, a less stringent process, in earlier discussions.

“Nothing would make us happier than to be able to say some day that we don’t have to do this,” Rudd told the crowd. “It is with no great glee that we have to consider doing this.”

The Dairyland representatives also told the crowd that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Rural Utilities Services, which provides financing to Dairyland and other utilities, would require a thorough approval process for any landfill and would monitor water quality and other environmental impact.

Ruud said the process could take as long as four years and would include public hearings.
“Again, we are in the very early stages of this and are listening,” he said. “We already have made some adjustments based on public feedback.”

Don Huff, an environmental specialist for Dairyland, said the latest technology would be used in lining any landfill that would store the ash wastes. Huff said the wastes are not classified as toxic by the EPA, but several people in the crowd disputed the potential harmfulness of the material.

Dairyland already uses such technology at its Alma plant disposal site, but that site will not have the capacity to take waste from Genoa because it too will have scrubbers installed by 2012 and will be needed for those byproducts.

The Genoa plant faces a dilemma that other coal-powered plants in the state and country don’t face. “Those other plants are not right on the Mississippi River,” Ruud said. “They have areas around their plants to put byproducts. We don’t have that.”

Dairyland has had three plants over the years at the Genoa location, a previous coal-powered plant and from 1967 to ‘87 a nuclear plant, which often caused controversy.

Controversy over the possible landfill will likely continue, because Leum and the group opposing the landfill plan to keep the heat on Dairyland. “Public pressure & Grassroots Activism” were emphasized in literature distributed at the meeting.

“Recycling waste is by far the best alternative to dumping it on the ground,” the literature reads. “A little research and energy looking for the right solution is all that is needed.

“Instead, Dairyland Power would rather take the easy way out and dump this in the nearest backyard they can find. Well, we don’t want it in our backyards and you shouldn’t want it in yours.”

See Hoffmann column on Dairyland at http://www.wisbusiness.com/index.iml?Content=202