Residents along the south edge of Kansas City have organized to block a proposed landfill that they say could erode their property values and threaten their health. (Chase Castor / The Beacon)
- Developers are proposing a landfill site in south Kansas City, near the border of Raymore and Lee’s Summit.
- A city-commissioned needs study found that regional landfills are at 67% capacity.
- Local residents started a political action committee raise money to oppose the landfill through the General Assembly.
- Lawmakers sponsoring legislation to block the landfill are confident their bills will pass in 2024, after failing in 2023.
Subdivisions, restaurants and retail shops pop up around Lee’s Summit and Raymore amid rising property values as single-family homes spread across what was farmland just a few years ago.
But residents say a proposed 430-acre landfill could threaten that growth.
And they’ve rallied together to block it — raising money and deploying lobbyists to get a state law change that eluded them last year.
The proposed site inside the Kansas City limits sits across the street from some homes. It is less than a mile from a 1,300-home neighborhood in Raymore and 2 miles from an elementary school in Lee’s Summit.
So residents along that south edge of Kansas City have organized to block the landfill that they say could erode their property values and threaten their health.
And they say they’re motivated by what feels like a lack of candor from the owners of the company proposing the landfill.
“We were going to need more than writing letters and making phone calls,” said Jennifer Phanton, treasurer of Kill the Fill PAC. “We would need to unite as a community.”
Politicians and lobbyists at the Statehouse say Missouri has rarely seen so many people become so active over legislation targeted for a narrow geographic area — to keep something out of their collective backyard.
A map featured on Kill The Fill’s website illustrates the proposed landfill site in south Kansas City. (killthefill.org)
Kansas City passed a moratorium on new landfill construction that lasts until June 1, 2024. A Kansas City-commissioned study found that regional landfills are currently at 67% capacity. In the meantime, opponents of burying the city’s garbage in the area have begun lobbying state lawmakers to update a law that would make it harder to channel that solid waste to the site.
One state law requires Kansas City to get approval from cities within half a mile from a proposed landfill. Lawmakers and residents want that barrier stretched to a full mile — effectively blocking the possibility of a landfill at the site in south Kansas City.
Grassroots Kansas City landfill opposition
A Facebook group — now sporting nearly 4,500 members — marked the first step in blocking the landfill. The group shares updates and prompts people to help in the anti-landfill campaign with things like testifying in Jefferson City for the law change.
During the spring legislative session, state Sen. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, and state Rep. Mike Haffner, a Republican from Pleasant Hill, both sponsored bills that would give Kansas City suburbs the right to increase their buffer from any landfill to a full mile.
Nearly 500 people submitted testimony opposing the landfill last spring for identical legislation in the Missouri House and Senate. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said that the effort marks one of the most successful examples of grassroots organizing they’ve seen.
“They have worked their tails off, gone nonstop trying to raise money, raise awareness,” Brattin said. “(It’s) unlike anything that I’ve seen since I’ve been in the legislature.”
Phanton, who lives in Grandview, had never been involved with politics before. The same was true for many of those she was working with to block the landfill.
“When it comes to threatening your homes, you will go to any lengths to protect your investment and your children,” Phanton said. “This is new for all of us.”
But after spending some time in the Capitol, Phanton realized that it would take more than testifying. The owners of KC Recycle & Waste Solutions, Jennifer and Aden Monheiser, hired at least 17 lobbyists in Jefferson City. Raymore, the city leading the opposition, had three.
The bill broadening the barrier between suburbs and a Kansas City landfill passed the House almost unanimously. Then Republican state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, who represents a district south of St. Louis, blocked a vote on the legislation with a filibuster.
“I do not support the government picking winners and losers in the private sector,” Coleman said at the time. “We should have a serious policy discussion about setting standards for what the rules should be regarding where landfills should be based on actual environmental impacts.”
Brattin and other senators filibustered budget bills in response. Eventually, the dueling filibusters ended after Brattin and other members cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, a Shelbina Republican, and Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican.
But the show of force against changing landfill statutes showed Phanton something: Testimony wasn’t enough.
That meant raising money. And a lot of it. She started a political action committee to hire lobbyists. She tapped the network on Facebook and since then Kill the Fill PAC has raised over $135,000 from more than 740 donors — enough to retain a lobbying firm run by former Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley.
Lee’s Summit Democratic state Rep. Kemp Strickler said getting a bill to the floor in the state Senate can require help from Capitol insiders.
“To get stuff through the Senate, it takes something additional — the rules are sort of different on that side,” he said. “I don’t know if it’ll be effective or not, but I think there’s so much on the line that I understand why this would be an additional attempt to try to get the attention of some lawmakers.”
The bill had bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The bill failing in 2023 despite that support is indicative of a larger problem in Jefferson City, Pleasant Hill’s Haffner said.
“The question I get asked all the time is, ‘Why couldn’t you take care of this last year?’” Haffner said. “And it just goes to show the dysfunction that takes place within Jefferson City.”
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How lawmakers plan to kill the fill in 2024
Part of the deal Brattin cut with O’Laughlin and Rowden last spring included a pledge that legislation blocking the landfill would be one of the first to make it to the Senate floor in the 2024 session.
As the metro-area delegation worked to raise the issue in the Capitol in 2023, Brattin acknowledged that many lawmakers in the Capitol were unaware of the proposed landfill and parts of state law geared specifically to Kansas City. When combined with the Senate leader’s promise to bring the bill to the floor before infighting can stall it, Brattin said he feels confident some form of legislation can make it to a vote.
So confident, in fact, that he’s considering expanding the radius for approval needed around the landfill site to a mile and a quarter or a mile and a half.
“I don’t see much capability for any shenanigans,” Brattin said. “At least I hope not.”
Haffner plans to introduce legislation identical to what passed the House last year. He’s also introducing another bill to change how the Department of Natural Resources OKs landfills.
Brattin and Haffner plan to file their legislation when bill prefiling for the 2024 session opens in December.
“This statute has not been looked at in years,” he said. “So we are going to revamp it so that it doesn’t happen to another community somewhere else in Missouri.”
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