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Madison City Council OKs project to turn half of Yahara Hills Golf Course into landfill

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Madison City Council overwhelmingly approved the new landfill site Tuesday night, but it’s only one step in a long process. 

 

The Madison City Council overwhelmingly approved a joint city-county plan to turn half of the Yahara Hills Golf Course into a landfill and sustainability campus Tuesday night in 17-2 vote. 

The joint project between Madison and Dane County would convert 230 acres of the publicly owned golf course — holes 18 through 36 specifically — into a landfill, compost site and sustainable business park. 

The county currently has less than 10 years of landfill space remaining at its Rodefeld Landfill, which is why the two governments are taking action now, County Executive Joe Parisi told the Cap Times.   

“It's going to be an amazing campus because it's not just the landfill, it's going to be recycling, reduction, reuse. Over the years, we picture it being this small business hub,” Parisi said, adding he hopes as little as possible will actually end up in the landfill.

The resolution approved the land sale to Dane County from the city for portions of the Yahara Hills Golf Course, totaling over $5.5 million, which will be used in future city budgets for maintenance and capital improvement needs of city golf courses. The Dane County Board of Supervisors will vote on the same item at its May 19 meeting.

Only 50 acres out of the total 230 will be used for the landfill itself, according to Charlie Romines, Madison streets superintendent. And should the city and county not find another site — instead of the Yahara Hills site — by 2030, when the current landfill will be at capacity, it would lead to “significant negative budgetary consequences,” he said.

“The landfill would likely serve the city's needs for over 70 years. It keeps our tipping fees, our costs to use the landfill, well below state averages,” Romines said. “Approving the land sale now does not guarantee a landfill will be sited there. The county actually has a lot more work to do."

Also included:

  • Under the agreement, the Yahara Golf Course is authorized to operate 36 holes of golf through 2024, 27 holes of golf through 2025 and 18 holes of golf through 2042.
  • The proposed resolution also approves a new solid waste agreement with the county for 2023 to 2032. The city will be charged $50 per ton for disposal of solid waste. 

The county hopes to include a sustainable business park or “sustainability campus” on the site to divert waste and create local circular economies, according to the county’s webpage for the project. This will be accomplished by utilizing new waste management technologies and reuse, repair and recycling businesses. 

The intent is to design a site where visitors “can examine their relationship with waste and the Dane County community can move towards a future where waste is not a liability, but a resource and an opportunity,” the county website says. 

Public feedback still sought

Still, many in the neighboring community near the golf course at 6701 US-12, in McFarland and Cottage Grove, feel blindsided by the project.

Mike Pfohl with Neighbors for a Better Landfill said the city is voting on the landfill despite major unknowns. 

For example, the McFarland School District has yet to be consulted on the project despite a McFarland school just 2,200 feet away from the proposed site, according to Pfohl.

“We aren't asking you to vote 'No' on the landfill sale, we're actually just simply asking you... to postpone the vote, because there are too many unknowns,” he said during public comment at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “There hasn't been enough input or outreach into the community, and most neighbors just found out about this plan a few weeks ago.”

The project has been listed on schedules and discussed in committee meetings — in both the county and city — since Nov. 3, 2021. The county has held five public informational sessions, as well, spanning back to Dec. 7. The most recent Q&A discussion was on April 21 and postcard invitations were sent to over 550 households in the McFarland and Cottage Grove area, according to Parisi’s office.

Pfohl said even with all of that, it doesn't mean that community engagement has occurred.

“It may be true that this may be the only place a landfill can be sited in the entire county, but my neighbors and community leaders and I aren't sold on that idea yet because we don't feel enough due diligence has been done to conclude that this is a 40 year-plus commitment,” he said. “Isn't it worth pausing the vote and ensuring we get this right?”

Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, was one of two council members who voted against the project, along with Ald. Nasra Wehelie, District 7. Harrington-McKinney agreed with Pfohl and motioned to refer the vote to a mid-June meeting, which ultimately failed.

“We could have done more,” she said. “I believe that it is irresponsible for the city to move forward without having the opportunity for some community education.”

Ald. Tag Evers, District 13, emphasized that even though the city approved the site, it’s only a preliminary step in a long process.

“Approving the sale now does not prevent further meaningful public engagement and, in fact, is a prerequisite for the most meaningful component of it: the locally negotiated agreement,” Evers said. “Voting for this sale is not the final word about the siting of the next landfill. It creates the possibility and the next step for that happening.”

The local negotiating agreement is where all area residents' concerns for the site are settled with the county, Romines explained at the meeting, though no date was given for when it would take place. Additionally, the city negotiated a buyback provision, which allows the city to buy back the site for what the county paid. 

City Council vice president Jael Currie, who represents the district for the proposed landfill site, said this has been a challenging issue and she wished both the city and county were more proactive in getting feedback.

“I do wish that more proactive communications during the planning process had occurred so the education and public information meetings were less of a notification style, and more of this is coming, this is what we're thinking,” she said. “I would love to be able to say let's delay this tonight, but I do not have a concrete plan or a proof of what would be achieved within a delay.”

She encouraged alders to pass the project so that conversations and negotiations can continue, and the city can continue to receive feedback.

The earliest the county could break ground on the project is 2028, according to Dane County Department of Waste and Renewals director John Welch.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

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