Negotiations are moving forward to resolve environmental violations at the regional landfill near Fort Dodge.
While landfill officials said the Iowa Attorney General's office has been very pleased with improvements, a fine is still likely.
"I think we're looking at a fine," said Steve Kersten, attorney for the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency. "I think we appreciate and understand that we're going to pay a fine; we just want to make it reasonable."
The agency is dealing with issues that go back to 2008.
"On Sept. 17, 2013, the Environmental Protection Commission requested the Attorney General to initiate legal proceedings against the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency, for numerous alleged environmental violations at the Agency's landfill," said Geoff Greenwood, communications director for the Iowa Department of Justice.
"Attorney General staff have been in communication with representatives of the landfill, but there has been no resolution of these violations," Greenwood said.
A lawsuit against the agency was sent to Kersten, but not actually filed yet, Kersten said. Instead the office has given the agency a chance to talk about what needs to happen.
"The ball has been in our court for a month or more now to come back with a proposal. I'm not at liberty to say what the proposal is, but I've now been authorized to negotiate," Kersten said.
The NCIRSWA executive board voted Tuesday night to give Kersten this authorization. Kersten said he will send a proposal back to the AG's office today.
The end goal here, he said, is a consent decree; a judge will sign an order declaring what the landfill has to pay. It is similar to a lawsuit, but instead of arguing their cases, each side agrees to what the end result will be.
A lawsuit would still be filed if agreement can't be reached, said Kersten.
Greenwood said he couldn't comment on the negotiations.
The board also received the income statement for the last 12 months, ending on June 30. The actual numbers showed significantly more income than projected by the budget.
The agency showed total expenses of about $3.4 million, or $1 million less than budgeted; and revenues of $4.2 million, about $500,000 higher than budgeted.
The budget had been prepared by the previous staff, said Interim Director Cindy Turkle.
Turkle replaced former Landfill Director Mike Grell in April 2013, and Recycling and Administration/Finance Director Deb Watson was terminated in September 2013.
Money spent on wages and overtime was almost $200,000 lower than budgeted.
Tasks have been completed at a high level without replacing some people, Turkle said.
"Particularly with the recycling center, I think they've done a good job of improving the activities and streamlining things so well, that we haven't had to replace people."
On the other hand, Turkle told the board that it may need to consider hiring new workers in the near future.
The board approved a five-year agreement with the Coleman District, as the current one will soon expire. The agreement now must be considered by the district's sewer board.
The waste agency pays the neighborhood because the agency pumps leachate through its private sewer system on the way to the public water treatment plant. Leachate is the liquid that trickles down through the accumulated garbage in the landfill.
The previous agreement paid the neighborhood $300 per month, and residents were able to have a free dump day similar to other incorporated towns, Kersten said.
Since the landfill is no longer doing free dump days, the new agreement would pay $350 per month. Of that, $50 would be held by the landfill in escrow, to pay for a dump day not to exceed 17 tons of waste.
But Coleman District resident Rich Lussman said there is still a problem with odor from the leachate, both outside and even within people's homes.
"During the Fourth of July it got very bad," he said. "The solutions you've come up with haven't fixed the problem. And I'm not the only one. There are five or six others."
But Ervin Claude, president of the Coleman Sewer Board, said most others who complain won't allow anyone in to inspect their pipes. Claude said that in houses with proper traps installed in the plumbing, there should be no issue.
"I argued that with a lot of our citizens, because they claimed they had a smell down there, in their house," he said. "But we smoke tested the lines, and everybody down there said, 'Nope, nope, nope, we don't have any smoke.'"
"I had smoke," Lussman said.
"It was coming out your basement drain, wasn't it?" said Claude. "And we said you have to fix that drain."
Equipment Supervisor Rob Anderson said the landfill flushes the lines with clean water about once a month, and it can do this when there is a problem in the district.
In other business, the board promoted Anderson to operations manager, with a salary of $58,000 per year.