05-16-2007 - Waste Management Inc., the company that's received Marshall County household trash, closed convenience centers on Saturday because a company attorney concluded their contract was voided when the county mayor vetoed the landfill
The mayor's veto put the county commission in a situation where they were not able to fulfill their duty, Waste Management Business Development Manager Robert Cheney said Monday of the commissioners' 11-7 vote to allow applications for the use of 11 more acres at Cedar Ridge Landfill.
A notice of the expansion approval was to be forwarded to the Marshall Maury Counties Regional Solid Waste Board for its approval before the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation could consider permitting a landfill expansion request. TDEC officials were to meet with county commissioners Tuesday night and explain a report on water quality impacts from the landfill to East Fork Globe Cree! k.
M arshall County told Waste Management on Saturday that closing convenience centers was a breach of the contract, County Attorney Lee Bowles said. Cheney said to avoid litigation, the centers were opened Monday.
Closing convenience centers left hundreds of households without a place to dump trash. Waste Management runs four convenience centers for the county under a contract that splits payments it makes to the county every month. Half the money funds the county's Solid Waste Department. The other pays Waste Management to run the convenience centers.
Tuesday, county leaders were preparing to make money available to the Solid Waste Department in case it's needed to pay convenience center employees, haul trash from there to another place, and pay disposal fees, Solid Waste Department Director Morgan Thomas said.
How that is done, or could be funded, and why were apparently of little concern to residents on Saturday, according to County Commissioner Wilford Spider Wentsel who said one woman was so mad that she wanted to Mapquest Terri Douglas' home and dump trash there where the company's spokeswoman lives.
Cheney's explanation didn't wash with County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett who said Waste Management acted too soon.
"On the veto; Liggett said, When you get to talking about canceling the contract that's not a final act, but closing centers is. The veto is along the way to a final decision to take final action on the expansion request.
Commissioner Scott Porch objected to voting last month to grant Waste Management permission to proceed toward landfill expansion because commissioners hadn't had an opportunity to fully understand the report from TDEC which hadn't been finalized then.
"The citizens have to realize, we have to look at all the things that are available to us in order to make a sound final judgment and by doing that [veto,] I feel like we will protect the county from overlooking this information, Liggett said.
"We appreciate the convenience centers and our intent is to do our best to keep them open, he said.
A Waste Management spokesman reported that on any given Saturday there are about 1,350 drop offs of household trash at convenience centers.
Given the average number of people per household, that means more than 3,300 people were affected, although no official or company representative indicated any public heath threat arose from he centers' closure. Some trash was left at gates to the convenience centers.
Saturday deliveries to the centers average: 600 at Chapel Hill; 400 at Belfast; 150 at Cornersville, and; 200 at the Old Columbia Highway center, the Waste Management spokesman said.
The county's solid waste director said on an average day some 25 tons of trash is received at the centers, but Saturday is the busiest day. Centers are closed on Sundays and Wednesdays.
It would cost about $50,000 for the first 30 days of operation of the centers if Marshall County took over, Thomas said. After that, negotiations for long-term contracts could lower the cost. Alternatives are BFI which owns the Lincoln County transfer station and operates the Walter Hill Landfill in Rutherford County. Waste Connections is a smaller operation with a landfill in a county west of Interstate 65.
Cheney said closure was in consultation with John Van Gessel, a company attorney at its offices in Atlanta. Bowles said she spoke on Saturday with John Williams, the company's Nashville lawyer. He helped write the contract the county has with Waste Management.
Cheney notes the conflict began before litigation in Marshall County Chancery Court where Chancellor J.B. Cox declined to dismiss the county's request for his interpretation of the contract. Cox also declined to rule until the county denyied expansion.
Cheney said Waste Management has worked to be prepared to prove to the county and the state that expansion meets environmental criteria for a landfill and the company wants to resume its good relationship with the county.
Bowles said the company has had plenty of opportunity to do so at previous county meetings and Cheney said he and other leaders of the company, including Landfill Operations Vice President Glenn Youngblood, would be at the commission meeting on Tuesday this week. [The Marshall County Tribune's press ran as the meeting was to start.]
While company leaders spoke of improving relations, their signs at convenience centers aggravated county commissioners, Wentsel said.
Banners at convenience centers measured 3- by 6-feet and apologized for the inconvenience and said patrons could call county commissioners.
"I don't play ball that way, Wentsel said. I don't want to put them out of business, but they're putting themselves out of business.
Liggett said Saturday's closing had the appearance of a pressure tactic. Liggett, commission Chairman Sam Smith and Don Ledford, chairman of the solid waste committee, scheduled last night's emergency meeting of the county commission.