Published March 7th, 2023 at 9:36 AM
The prospect of a landfill on the edge of Kansas City and a stone’s throw from a golf course community has pitted half a dozen Missouri mayors against a private company with an army of Jefferson City lobbyists.
And that’s all before the would-be owners even approach the city with a plan.
For more than a year, KC Recycle & Waste Solutions, owned by a married couple from the region, has been exploring sites for a landfill, including one at the southern tip of Kansas City near Raymore. Communities surrounding the site say they heard rumors for months but couldn’t confirm anything.
“They’ve run a covert cloak and dagger like operation,” Raymore’s mayor pro tem, Reginald Townsend, told a Missouri House committee in February.
Now, neighbors and officials from Raymore, Lee’s Summit and Grandview are pushing the Missouri General Assembly to pass a bill that would kill the project. U.S. Reps. Mark Alford, a Republican, and Emanuel Cleaver II, a Democrat, have also come out against the landfill.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Monheiser, one of the owners of the would-be landfill, has hired 18 lobbyists to convince legislators not to change the rules.
“We’re just saying to you please, today, to consider to vote against this bill so that, as small business owners, we can continue to follow the law as it’s been written for the last 50 years, and not change it on us in the middle of the game,” Monheiser said to the Missouri House Local Government Committee in February.
Monheiser said her opponents’ “desire to change the rules in the middle of the process, combined with the misinformation they are putting out, has forced us (to) hire a few (lobbying) firms in Jefferson City.” She said the developers will engage with neighbors “long before” they initiates any formal process with Kansas City.
The proposed site is along Missouri 150 Highway in a part of Kansas City that extends out, like a peninsula, surrounded by Grandview, Raymore and Lee’s Summit. To the south of the site lies Creekmoor, a golf course community with modern homes priced between $500,000 and $1 million.
Neighbors and city officials from the area said putting a landfill so close to those homes would have a catastrophic impact on their property values.
Melissa Sutton told the committee she and her husband had their Creekmoor home built to support the care of their son with special needs. Having to move and sell that house would mean losing all the investment they made in their son’s future.
The Kansas City-Raymore border is just far enough from the site that a Missouri law requiring approval from an adjacent municipality before a landfill is built in Kansas City does not apply. Current law gives other cities power over landfills within half a mile of their border.
But a Missouri House bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, would change that. It would require that municipalities within one mile of a landfill built in an adjacent city be allowed to sign off before the state can issue an environmental permit.
Haffner said the proposed site is barely beyond the half-mile mark that would give Raymore power over it under current law.
“The purpose of this legislation is to force them to actually communicate with the municipalities prior to putting it in,” he said.
Haffner’s bill cleared two House committees and awaits floor action.
Haffner said the first time he was able to confirm the rumors of a possible landfill was when KC Waste & Recycling Solutions’ lobbyists came to his office earlier this year.
While Monheiser and her husband haven’t yet sought rezoning for the property or an environmental permit, she said they have been acquiring land for the site.
She said they are under contract or have purchased about 500 acres. The landfill would occupy about 270 acres.
Those purchases are reflected on neither Kansas City’s real estate parcel viewer nor the Jackson County Recorder of Deeds website.
The debate over Haffner’s bill raises the question — is it already too late to change the rules?
Monheiser and legislators opposed to the bill likened it to changing the rules in the middle of a game. KC Waste & Recycling Solutions has been playing by those rules, they argue.
But Haffner and officials opposed to the project disputed that.
“The game hasn’t even begun if you’re going to equate this thing to a game, which was very offensive to us … when a landfill at that location would affect so many people negatively,” Raymore Mayor Kris Turnbow said in an interview.
Without approval to rezone the property — if necessary — and a permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the developers don’t know if the site will work for a landfill.
“If we get to the point where it’s not feasible for us to put a landfill there, then that’s a risk that we signed up for in the beginning,” Monheiser said. “We did not sign up for the rules to be changed on us after our investment.”
It’s unclear how much the Monheisers have spent so far or how much they expect to spend if the landfill is built.
Haffner’s bill cleared two House committees and awaits floor action.
A bill similar to Haffner’s hasn’t made much progress in the Senate. But the issue has been debated in the upper chamber.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, added language from Haffner’s legislation to an unrelated bill, causing another GOP senator — Nick Schroer of O’Fallon — to offer an amendment removing it.
That sparked outrage from Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, who represents the communities across the city boundaries from the landfill.
“I’m just actually blown away by this … assault on what will be affecting the people who have just invested — we’re talking about property rights — millions of dollars into their homes to have a freaking landfill put in, literally right there at their house,” he said.
Koenig ultimately relented and the bill was approved without the language pertaining to the landfill.
Even if the Missouri General Assembly doesn’t pass legislation to kill the Monheisers’ project, the proposed landfill faces opposition from Kansas City and city councils in adjacent municipalities that have adopted resolutions opposing it.
Kansas City City Council members voted 11-2 last week in favor of a resolution opposing the project and ordering a study of the need for a new landfill.
Monheiser and a representative from the Mid-America Regional Council, which is made up of officials from the Kansas City metro area, testified in the Missouri House committee saying the region will likely need another landfill soon.
“If we don’t start with the solution now,” Monheiser said, “then we’re going to be in a situation in our region that’s going to be catastrophic.”
If rezoning is necessary to build the landfill, Monheiser would face an uphill battle with the council that’s also in near-lockstep opposition.
“We hope that when and if we are able to show — not only the Kansas City officials, but the surrounding communities — our full plan, people will see our project in a way that makes sense for everyone and that we will be able to help the region benefit from our development,” Monheiser said.
Two council members — Brandon Ellington and Lee Barnes — voted against the resolution. Barnes said he wanted to see the results of the study before taking a position on the particular project.
Barnes noted that despite the discussion about Kansas City being a good regional partner, adjacent municipalities didn’t ask council members whether they supported a constitutional amendment forcing Kansas City to spend more money on its police force, which passed last year.
“So don’t talk about regionalism when it’s convenient for you,” Barnes said, “but when it’s something that we need or something that we should be in control of, you just randomly decide you’re going to make a decision for us.”
Allison Kite is a data reporter for the Missouri Independent, where this story first appeared, with a focus on the environment and agriculture.