The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has asked the city of Eden Prairie to hold its nose and take thousands of tons of garbage from neighboring Hopkins, all in the name of helping the state save money and freeing up land for redevelopment.

The state agency wants Eden Prairie to accept the contents of a landfill in Hopkins that is too close to housing. It wants to move the garbage to the long-closed and once-controversial Flying Cloud Landfill in Eden Prairie.

Pulling this off would require sending 115 semi truckloads of garbage a day -- for 14 months -- down major city thoroughfares and past Eden Prairie's namesake shopping mall.

Consolidating the two landfills would save the state about $4.5 million in operating costs over 30 years. Moving the Hopkins landfill's contents would close the books on a waste site that is only 50 feet from homes -- and free up 37 acres for redevelopment in Hopkins.

And just what, Eden Prairie officials are asking, is in it for Eden Prairie?

City council members, who first learned of the idea earlier this month, are skeptical. But they also have an unusual trump card: They can say no, thanks to a 1988 court settlement that stopped the expansion of Flying Cloud by a private hauling company. The deal stipulated that any future expansion would require city council approval.

"How about moving Flying Cloud to Hopkins?" said City Council Member Sherry Butcher Wickstrom when she heard of the proposal.

Flying Cloud, located across from Flying Cloud Airport, is about six to seven times larger in size than the Hopkins landfill.

A possible incentive for Eden Prairie is a share of the money gained from the Hopkins land redevelopment. The MPCA wants Hopkins and Eden Prairie to discuss that idea.

The topic arises just as Rick Getschow, former Hopkins city manager, takes over as the newly hired city manager of Eden Prairie. Getschow, who has favored freeing up the Hopkins landfill for development, starts his new job on Monday. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.

'No-brainer' needs city's OK

The MPCA, which collects methane gas and manages drainage at 112 closed landfills, says it has never before had to get local permission for such a move.

Jeff Lewis, the agency's manager of closed landfills, called the Hopkins-to-Eden-Prairie plan a "no-brainer" because of the money that could be saved and the land that would be recovered. Being able to reclaim landfill land for another purpose "is fairly valuable,'' Lewis said. "Unfortunately, it's not within the city of Eden Prairie."

He also emphasized that the MPCA plans to peel off the top of the Flying Cloud Landfill and use its earth-moving equipment to mound the buried garbage higher to create steeper slopes for better drainage. "We do have to go in and fix that landfill,'' Lewis said.

That work will take a year and Eden Prairie has no say over that. Bringing in the Hopkins garbage would extend the work by just two months, Lewis said.

With or without the added waste from Hopkins, the garbage footprint at the 240-acre Eden Prairie landfill would shrink. Mounding the garbage to create steeper drainage slopes would drop the footprint from 87 acres to 57 acres. Adding the Hopkins garbage, the footprint would be 65 acres, Lewis said.

Worth it in the long run?

If its contents are not moved, the MPCA says the Hopkins landfill would need a 200-foot buffer from homes, a new cover and a new gas collection system. To open, rework and re-cap each landfill would cost a combined $20.5 million. Consolidating them at Flying Cloud would cost $27.2 million.

State officials say that extra consolidation cost would be offset by the $4.5 million in operational savings, by the environmental gain of removing the hazards of a landfill near housing and the economic gain of making the land available for development.

Closing the Hopkins landfill would save $115,000 a year in operation and maintenance and the $1 million cost of replacing the methane gas extraction system in the future, Lewis said.

Eden Prairie City Council Member Kathy Nelson asked about odor from a landfill move, wondering if it would waft along with the trucks "right past our mall.''

Much of the transfer would be done in the cool months, but the truck route is likely to follow Flying Cloud Drive near Eden Prairie Center, said Peter Tiffany, MPCA principal engineer.

'You will at times smell it'

"I will guarantee you that you will at times smell it," he said. The Health Department has said such odor is a nuisance but not a health problem, he said.

Council Member Ron Case said, "I don't think I could consider taking Hopkins waste for nothing. It doesn't seem like we could do this without a conversation about what we would get." He asked if Hopkins would consider sharing money it might receive from the land redevelopment.

Kersten Elverum, Hopkins director of planning and development, said the city has looked at the landfill, located in southwest Hopkins near Westbrooke Patio Homes, as an opportunity and would love to have its 37 acres available to develop. "As a four-square-mile, fully developed city, to have a parcel of that size made available is pretty exciting, but we are also realistic about funding and other obstacles," she said.

Moving landfills is not unprecedented. The MPCA has picked up and moved eight landfills, Lewis said. Moving both Hopkins and Flying Cloud would cost too much, but the Hopkins move is affordable because the two landfills are close to one another and there would be no tipping fees, Lewis said.

Timing for doing the work would depend on legislators making money available, Lewis said.

The PCA had $48 million set aside to contend with closed landfills, but it was taken last year by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislators to balance the budget.

Bonding would be necessary to raise some of the money, Lewis said. Gov. Mark Dayton has some landfill funding in his proposed bonding bill. Legislators are still discussing whether to have a bonding bill at all this year in light of the state's budget shortfall.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711