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Lee County landfill agreement 'shady'

County rep: Firm hasn't lived up to agreement

Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 1:19 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 2:30 p.m. CDT

DIXON – The company that owns the Lee County Landfill negotiated a "shady" deal with the county government in 2008 and has not lived up to its end of the bargain, a county representative says.

Marv Van Weelden, the county's representative in dealing with waste companies, issued a statement Monday that criticized Phoenix-based Republic Services, the nation's second largest trash collection company. He has been trying to get a second landfill in the county for more than 5 years.

But Lee County government officials say Republic has essentially lived up to its agreement, and the state's attorney's office says it is not aware of an illegal meeting that Van Weelden says was held.

In his statement, Van Weelden took aim at a contractual provision that bars any other landfills in the county for the next 24 years. Part of the negotiations for the contract occurred at a July 22, 2008, meeting in which one committee member was barred from entering and two others were kept in the dark about it, Van Weelden said.

The result of the meeting, he said, was the "possibly illegal" exclusivity provision.

"The 24-year exclusivity agreement with Republic was awarded under highly unusual and suspicious circumstances," Van Weelden said. "County Board members were deceived."

Nothing in the meeting minutes for that day indicated it was closed; typically, when public bodies close their doors, they report doing so in their minutes. The meeting included five representatives from Republic and just two of the five members of the County Board's solid waste committee, as well as two other County Board members and representatives from the county highway department and state's attorney's office.

The circumstances surrounding the meeting, Van Weelden said, prompted the state's attorney's office to seek a ruling from Lee County Court on the contract.

"Does this illegal meeting void the suspicious amendment?" he said.

The court has yet to rule.

Assistant State's Attorney Matt Klahn, who wasn't with the state's attorney's office when the ruling was sought, said he understands that the office wanted only a declaratory judgment to evaluate the rights and responsibilities of the parties to the contract.

He said he didn't see anything in the record indicating that the July 2008 meeting prompted the request for a judgment.

"I don't have any evidence that there was an illegal meeting," Klahn said.

Ketchum: Firm has lived up to deal

In the summer of 2008, Van Weelden approached the county with two interested investors, he said. One of them offered to lend $5 million to the county to be used for engineering tests and other preliminary steps to establish a second landfill, with the county repaying the money over 7 years, he said.

During the life of the landfill, Van Weelden said, the county would have received $4 million a year in fees. He questioned why the county would have passed up such an opportunity.

Under the Republic contract, the county has been guaranteed $1.8 million a year in tipping fees. That provision expired at the end of 2013, which is expected to put the county in a financial bind. With the reduced level of trash, the county's revenue is expected to drop by $1 million a year.

"Republic Services has not lived up to its agreement with local and county officials," Van Weelden wrote. "Republic did not adhere to the agreement about the amount of tonnage brought to the Dixon landfill. Less tonnage than agreed to by Republic Services has been dumped."

County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said Republic has lived up to the "black and white" of the agreement but that the company is "artificially shorting" the amount of trash that goes to the landfill.

Ketchum, who wasn't chairman until 2012, attended the solid waste committee meeting in question, but he said he didn't remember its circumstances. He said he and other members were under the impression that the exclusivity provision would last only 5 years, like the $1.8 million-a-year guarantee.

"I was wrong in thinking that," he said.

Ketchum said he favored a second landfill, although he conceded a certain number of members were "anti-anything." In 2008, he said, the county received an offer from a "legitimate" investor, but the county passed it up because of the exclusivity provision.

Agent for the county

On Aug. 15, 2011, then-County Board Chairman Jim Seeberg wrote a letter to Van Weelden that designated Van Weelden, a resident of suburban Elgin, to be the county's agent for "preliminary arrangements and negotiations" for a second landfill.

"I certainly authorize you to pursue a workable agreement on behalf of the county" with a waste management company, wrote Seeberg, who died last year.

Ketchum sent a nearly identical letter on Dec. 3, 2012, 2 days after succeeding Seeberg as chairman.

The county is not paying Van Weelden. Rather, a winning landfill company would compensate him for his services.

When he issued the statement on Monday, Van Weelden said he had no additional comment.

Representatives of Republic Services couldn't be reached for comment.

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