‘Kill the fill.’ Proposed Kansas City landfill targeted by MO lawmakers, area residents

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When Brooke Morehead, the principal of Summit Pointe Elementary School, imagines a future with a landfill less than 1,000 feet away, she worries.

Toxic gasses. Putrid odors. She fears it will all add up to a health hazard for children.

“Our school is adamant in our opposition to the proposal of a landfill,” Morehead, whose school is part of the Lee’s Summit School District but has a south Kansas City address, told Missouri lawmakers on Tuesday.

“But we’re even more adamant in the lack of voice being given to the most impacted communities.”

Amid intense local opposition to a landfill proposed for the southern tip of Kansas City, Missouri lawmakers will decide whether to step in and give nearby communities the power to block the project. Less than a year after the proposal ground the state Senate to a halt as senators battled over the issue, the dispute is back in Jefferson City.

Two bills, filed by Republicans state Sen. Mike Cierpiot of Lee’s Summit and state Sen. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville, would require that cities within one mile of a landfill built in a nearby city be allowed to sign off on a project before it is approved. The current buffer is half a mile, giving surrounding cities little sway over the project proposed in Kansas City bordering Raymore.

Residents in Raymore, Belton, Grandview and Lee’s Summit have for months condemned the proposed landfill, arguing the project would hurt the health of their neighbors and property values. The hypothetical site would be near the high-end Creekmoor golf course community, bordering 147th Street to the north, Horridge Road to the east, 155th Street to the south and Peterson Road to the west.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Senate Local Government and Elections Committee waded into the dispute, holding a hearing over the bills filed by Cierpiot and Brattin. The hearing is the first step toward another potentially volatile fight on the Senate floor after the issue resulted in hours-long filibusters last year. State Rep. Mike Haffner, a Pleasant Hill Republican, has filed similar legislation in the House.

“We’ve seen one of the largest uprisings, grassroots of the people of my area,” Brattin told the committee, referring to opponents of the project who have created a political action committee called “Kill the Fill.” The group had more than $69,000 on hand as of this week, according its most recent report with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

The landfill project is spearheaded by local businesswoman Jennifer Monheiser with KC Recycle & Waste Solutions, which has hired 18 lobbyists since last year to oppose the legislation. Monheiser told lawmakers that her proposal was an answer to concerns that, as Kansas City grows, it’s running out of space for residents to be able to dispose of their waste.

“I don’t dislike anybody that is against this project,” she said. “I think people are misinformed and I think that they’re acting out of fear.”

Jennifer Monheiser with KC Recycle & Waste Solutions (left) speaks to the Missouri Senate Local Government and Elections Committee about her plans for a south Kansas City landfill. Kacen Bayless/kbayless@kcstar.com
Jennifer Monheiser with KC Recycle & Waste Solutions (left) speaks to the Missouri Senate Local Government and Elections Committee about her plans for a south Kansas City landfill. Kacen Bayless/kbayless@kcstar.com

The fight over the proposed landfill became a flashpoint during last year’s legislative session, as identical legislation aimed at stopping the project stalled in the Senate amid filibusters from senators in the St. Louis area who argued, in part, that it should be a local issue. Brattin, in response, launched a filibuster of his own, attempting to force lawmakers to take up his bill.

Brattin ultimately sat down after money was placed in the state budget for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to study possible effects of a landfill. However, Republican Gov. Mike Parson later vetoed that provision. The Kansas City Council later agreed to halt all approvals of landfill proposals until June 2024 after Mayor Quinton Lucas met with state senators about the issue.

A spokesperson for Lucas declined to comment on Tuesday.

Fifth District council member Darrell Curls, who represents the area where the landfill is proposed, said he hasn’t seen the Missouri bills but opposes the landfill.

“If we can get some type of help from the state in regards to legislation that would help … I would probably be supportive of it,” he said. “It’s not a good fit for the 5th District. It’s not a good fit for Kansas City. And it’s not something that residents would, you know, support and don’t support right now.”

An October report commissioned by the Kansas City Council, which has come out in opposition to the landfill project, found that the area’s landfills are currently at 67% capacity and are projected to be completely full by 2037.

Steve Jeffery, an attorney representing Raymore, said Tuesday that there was not an imminent need for a new landfill, arguing that there are “decades of capacity remaining at the landfills in the Kansas City area.”

Jeffery also pushed back on the idea that the legislation would change the rules for Monheiser and the developers in the middle of the game, stating that they do not have a legal right to keep the approval buffer at half of a mile.

“It is reasonable for the legislature to allow cities within one mile of a proposed site to consider the effects of the landfill,” he said, pointing to studies that showed long-term health impacts from landfills.

David Biderman, a Virginia-based consultant and former executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America, however argued on behalf of the project, saying that the Kansas City area “faces a serious impending shortage of waste disposal capacity.”

“There isn’t a rational basis for giving neighboring communities additional, extra territorial authority for deciding essential solid waste infrastructure in Missouri,” he said.

But for Morehead, and the residents who push back against the project, the legislation would give a voice to those impacted by the proposed landfill.

“While our school is 739 feet from the proposed property of the landfill, thousands of students are within one and a half miles of this site and approximately 20,000 live in a two-mile radius,” she said.

“A landfill and all the consequences that come with it should be decided upon by those it will impact.”