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Commission faces landfill vote again

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Marshall County commissioners on Tuesday are to consider supporting or overriding County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett's veto of their 11-7 vote to permit expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill.

Meanwhile, campaign rhetoric from last August's county commission election has returned and a former commissioner who lost by 30 votes offers reason to believe a veto override vote might be 12-6. Liggett's reaction: Time was provided for more information.

The commission meets at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, one day later than normal because of Memorial Day.

Liggett has explained his veto, saying environmental information brought to the commission last month by Commissioner Larry McKnight was obtained before the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation completed the report.

Within a few days of the vote to let Waste Management fill 11 acres of unused space with more trash, TDEC released its report, Liggett vetoed the commission's approval, and Commission Chairman Sam Smith announced a special called meeting to hear TDEC officials explain their report. Commissioners also voted to be prepared if Waste Management stopped operating convenience centers again. They're operated by the landfill company for the county.

Officials from TDEC's Solid Waste Division told commissioners on May 15 that it's better to have the landfill run by a corporation monitored by the state, instead of local governments. East Fork Globe Creek is impacted by liquids seeping from the landfill, but it's an historic problem tied to previous management of the facility.

That historic issue was emphasized by former Commissioner Mark Wilkerson. State and federal regulations have changed over the years. Where clay liners were once required, a thick rubber-like plastic liner is required to catch leachate. That's rain which has fallen on a landfill where water seeps through garbage, collects pollutants and is to be collected at the lowest end of a landfill liner and hauled away for treatment and disposal.

When the landfills here were created, no liner was required and those landfills were sold and resold by previous owners, Wilkerson said.

"They were in compliance," he said, but operating standards were raised to further protect the environment.

When Wilkerson was on the commission, he served on the Solid Waste Committee and had sought information about what should be done and what's happening in the solid waste industry.

The landfill has been controversial and it was a subject he faced in his re-election campaign when he was accused of taking trips to Las Vegas when they were paid for by the landfill owners.

Such trips are still being taken, but Wilkerson and County Solid Waste Director Morgan Thomas say the travel, hotel and related bills were paid from the county's solid waste fund. Both say without hesitation that the fund is created by payments from Waste Management to the county, but it's for operation of the Solid Waste Department.

No property tax or sales tax revenue funded the trips to Las Vegas, Wilkerson said.

Thomas said going to Nevada cost less than trips to Chicago and Denver because hotels cost more in those two other cities and flights to get there are priced higher than trips to Las Vegas. Furthermore, a conference in New Orleans had to be moved to Las Vegas because of Hurricane Katrina.

Wilkerson said that even though he is again hearing comments among he public that commissioners are going on paid trips, he believes that the commission will vote to override Liggett's veto. He even asks whether it might be a 12-6 vote, thereby increasing the margin from 11-7.

Liggett reacted, "I don't poll the commissioners."

As for what might motivate a commissioner's vote, the county mayor said, "Hopefully, there's been time for good, sound information."

He described TDEC officials' message to the commission as saying "that pollution is coming from the landfill." However, the state officials "only answered questions that were asked."

Liggett "never heard them give numbers on the [landfill] cells [space used for depositing trash] that are causing the water [of East Fork Globe Creek] to be impaired," the county mayor said.

"As far as correcting the situation, I certainly hope that somebody is going to correct it," Liggett said.

Asked if he believes Waste Management officials are sincere when they say the company wants to take steps that will remove the creek from a state list of streams that are polluted, the mayor said, "I think it would be more acceptable to the people of the county if Waste Management presented a plan with a time table on the cleanup.

"I would hope the state would be willing to work harder to clean up the water and monitor the water with additional tests for heavy metals that might cause a human health hazard," Liggett said.

As for county officials who travel to conferences conducted by professional organizations of solid waste managers, Liggett said, "If they go to learn, they should come back with information to share with commissioners. As to how many go, that's another thing. Most of the time when you go, you pickup something you learn."

Thomas said that's what the annual Solid Waste Expo Conference is for. He didn't go to the conference this spring because there were issues to be resolved locally as his department prepared for the commission meeting last month.

The vote on Liggett's veto isn't the only controversial topic when commissioners meet on Tuesday. The Rogers Group is asking the county to rezone 48 acres at its Pottsville Quarry to expand open pit mining.