A Dakota County pilot program will award $3 million in grants to cities with landfills located within or near their borders to compensate them for the negative effects of hosting the dumps.

In April, the Dakota County Board approved funding to complete at least one project in each of the five eligible cities, Burnsville, Coates, Inver Grove Heights, Rosemount and South St. Paul. Cities had to apply for the funds, called Landfill Host Community Environmental Legacy Fund grants, and propose environmentally oriented projects.

Cities that host landfills deserve some compensation, said Commissioner Joe Atkins, one of two county commissioners who proposed the program. “When you’ve grown up in a community that’s home to a landfill, it’s just ever-present,” Atkins said. “Those areas that suffer the most from hosting the landfill should also receive some of the funding to mitigate against those harms.”

The downsides of landfills include battered roads that need frequent repair, noise from hauling and moving waste, pollution, and the creation of areas that can never be developed, Atkins said.

Each year, the county — which has more open, state-permitted landfills than any other county in Minnesota — receives $7 million in host fees from the companies that own and operate each of the county’s five landfills. About $3 million of that money will now go back to the cities to pay for park development, land acquisition and building demolition, trail construction and a water study. The rest will be spread throughout the county.

“It’s kind of a common sense idea,” Atkins said of the program, which was first suggested last fall.

Atkins represents Inver Grove Heights, Eagan and Rosemount. Commissioner Liz Workman, who represents Burnsville, also championed the concept.

Out of 19 grant applications, eight were chosen, including each city’s top priority, Atkins said.

Rebuilding in Burnsville

The largest sum will go to Burnsville, which hosts one open landfill and two that are closed or no longer accepting garbage. The city will get $1.15 million to create a program to redevelop underused or outdated properties. That could include buying land or tearing down old buildings, among other things.

“We are really appreciative of it,” said City Manager Heather Johnston.

Burnsville is 98 percent built out, Johnston said, so all development in the city is essentially redevelopment.

“We have a real need for economic development funds that are more flexible,” Johnston said.

City officials say the Burnsville Center mall and surrounding areas, the Minnesota River quadrant and various strip malls are ripe for new projects. The City Council is in the process of creating an economic development strategic plan, Johnston said, to further spur redevelopment.

Planning a park

Inver Grove Heights will receive $850,000 in grant money to help it create a park called Heritage Village. The city will also invest $1.26 million of its own funds in the park, which sits on land that was once contaminated by railroad use.

Park plans call for acquiring additional property and building a dog park, walking paths, a parking lot and a park shelter. The city will install a playground there and link its trails to the Mississippi River Regional Trail (MRRT).

Inver Grove Heights always planned on developing the park, said Mayor George Tourville, but the city can now speed up the process of improving trails and acquiring land.

“It’s a new program and I appreciate the Dakota County Board,” Tourville said. “It’s one of those things that you don’t get too crazy about … until it really happens.”

Tourville pointed to the Pine Bend Landfill, one of three landfills in Inver Grove Heights. It keeps growing higher and higher, partly because no other cities want a new landfill within their city limits. “It will never be anything else — it will be this big hill filled with household waste,” Tourville said.

Atkins said the grant program is just the beginning of helping cities deal with a landfill’s fallout. “We have a long way to go,” Atkins said. “It really is a challenge to host a landfill.”