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Brown County Landfill

An attorney who specializes in natural resource law has raised concerns about the Brown County Landfill’s lack of pollution insurance, but the coverage is just too expensive, said the chairwoman of the county commission. Attorney David Ganje, an Aberdeen native who lives in Rapid City, believes the county should have a policy in case there are major pollution problems as there have been at a landfill in Burnsville, Minn. He said the estimated cost to clean up the pollution in that case is $64 million.

That leak ended up polluting a source of drinking water for Burnsville residents, according to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I think that’s it’s important for municipalities to explore the use of pollution insurance because it’s the least expensive way to address the contingency of leaks,” Ganje said. “Environmental insurance, although it’s not free, it’s a legitimate option. There are no federal sources to bail out a leaking landfill. It’s a ‘polluter pays’ set of rules,” he said. The 320-acre Brown County Landfill has an account with $240,000 in it for environmental remediation, according to Kim Smith, spokesman for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He said that amount has been sufficient to date.

Brown County Commission Chairwoman Rachel Kippley said pollution liability insurance simply costs too much. Mike Scott, Brown County Landfill manager, said that a five-year, $3 million pollution insurance policy cost the Rapid City Landfill $13,200 per year, with a $100,000 deductible. “If we were able to afford it, it would be something that we would look into. But I don’t think that counties could afford it,” Kippley said. Kippley said there’s already extensive and expensive pollution monitoring at the landfill.

“There’s always extensive conversations to make sure those things don’t happen. Anytime you’re not covered there’s always a little concern. But if it were feasible and it were affordable, we would carry it,” she said. The $13,000-plus would be better spent on higher-priority projects like fixing up roads, Kippley said. Scott said that because of existing safeguards, there’s no anticipation of a large-scale pollution problem. And were there to be a problem, there’s more than just the $240,000 account that could be tapped for a cleanup. Scott said any revenue generated by the landfill — such as user fees, could help cover the cost. The county would be remiss not to protect the landfill and the area that surrounds it, he said, especially since it generates revenue.

“This is not a situation where the county is funding the landfill every year,” Ganje said. “This landfill makes money, and yet the county is saying, ‘Well, we have to be careful. We have to consider our risk, and we just can’t put money into it.“(If) the landfill is making the county money, isn’t there more incentive to put money into it to protect the landfill?” he said. Jim Wendte, the environmental engineering manager with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources Waste Management Program, said there are only a couple of landfills in the state that have pollution insurance. Having it is not required by state law. “Through our administrative rules, we do have the authority to require financial assurance for a pollution event or remediation for a pollution event. But the administrative rules are permissive. We don’t have to require it, we can choose to require it. At this point in time, the department has not required insurance of that type to any of the regional landfills,” he said.

The department requires every landfill to have funds set aside for closure and post-closure liability. “Brown County has chosen to maintain a cash account in a bank to satisfy their financial assurance obligations. At the end of calendar year 2015, their closure liability was $40,952, and the county had placed $357,874 in the bank account. At the end of calendar year 2015, their post-closure liability was $1,235,373, and the county had placed $1,235,373 in the bank account,” Wendte said. The county is well-funded in its closure liability account, and the total for the post-closure liability is bigger because it is over a 30-year period, Smith explained. 

But to only have $240,000 in funds to protect against a potential leak into an aquifer still raises concerns for Ganje. “I understand it’s an economic issue, but that doesn’t address the risk factor,” he said. “We don’t pay enough attention to our solid waste once it’s off our property. So it’s not a priority issue until something happens, and that’s not the time to think about it,” he said.

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