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Olmsted County seeks dismissal of trash fees suit

By Joshua Lynsen

jlynsen@postbulletin.comW

Olmsted County wants a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Onyx Waste Services Midwest that challenges the county's disposal fees.

The lawsuit alleges Olmsted County breached its contract with Onyx in March 2004 when it raised disposal fees $8.75 per ton. According to the lawsuit, those fees were increased to help expand the county's Waste-to-Energy Facility.

But the lawsuit says the Waste-to-Energy expansion won't be completed until 2008, which is one year after the contract between Onyx and the county ends. The lawsuit claims that Onyx shouldn't have to help pay for a facility expansion it's not using.

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A response filed last week by Olmsted County says the increased disposal fees are proper and justified.

The response says that the increased fees will improve the Waste-to-Energy Facility by adding a third burner. It also says that Olmsted County is allowed by its contract with Onyx to raise fees because those fees are related to "increased capital or operational costs of the facility."

Olmsted County asks Judge Jonathan Lebedoff to dismiss Onyx's lawsuit. Alternatively, the county asks for a jury trial.

The Waste-to-Energy Facility, near the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, opened 17 years ago and burns garbage from Dodge and Olmsted counties. Garbage burned there generates power for 26 public and private buildings.

County officials are planning to spend about $40 million to add a third burner at the facility. Fees collected from garbage haulers would help pay for that third burner.

Onyx, which has paid about $400,000 more since the disposal fees were raised, has stopped paying the disputed $8.75-per-ton cost to Olmsted County. That money is now going into an account maintained by U.S. District Court, and will be distributed after the case is resolved.

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