Mayor calls for landfill hearing

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lewisburg Mayor Bob Phillips decided Thursday the city should tentatively schedule a hearing early next month so the City Council may hear public comments on whether Waste Management Inc. ought to be permitted by the state to expand the disposal area at Cedar Ridge Landfill.

Phillips' decision was an attempt to keep the city's options open, he said. The mayor directed City Manager Eddie Fuller to find a suitable hearing date at least two weeks after Wednesday which is the next opportunity to publish a legal notice. Nov. 5 through 7 were the prospective dates for a hearing. The Recreation Center is the likely location of the hearing.

Those steps were being taken as "unforeseen circumstances" postponed the Council's regularly scheduled monthly meeting from Oct. 14 to the 21st, and then another week to Oct. 28, Fuller said, explaining that Phillips was unavailable for the regularly scheduled meeting a few days after Goat Fest, and that Councilwoman Quinn Brandon was unavailable for the meeting set for Tuesday next week.

Asked about the delays and Council's renewed opportunity to receive free garbage disposal at Cedar Ridge if it relinquished authority to stop the landfill's expansion, and a pending decision to appoint a successor to Betsy Shelton who resigned from the Council, Fuller replied, "I think that's why we want everybody present, so when we address those issues, we'll have everybody present."

The issues are intertwined. Relinquishing authority over the landfill requires a two-thirds majority vote by the Council. One lawyer says without Shelton, only three votes are needed. Another says four votes are needed to exceed the two-thirds majority needed.

Two weeks ago, Phillips said he believes the city should use the process outlined in the state law adopted by the Council and that would mean holding a hearing after a 30-day public comment period ended on Oct. 5.

The hearing Fuller is scheduling on Phillips' directive yesterday is optional. During the 30-day public comment period "people can request a hearing, but they have to say why," Fuller said, emphasizing the mayor "leans toward having a hearing."

Conducting a hearing follows the process "and it's all in the open," the city manager said.

While discussing the open seat on the Council and the super majority vote required to relinquish authority over the landfill, Phillips noted that Shelton's successor deserves time to become acquainted with the complexities of the decisions.

Meanwhile, only Odie Whitehead, 62, of 516 2nd Ave., has met the deadline of Thursday last week to submit an application to be appointed by the Council to succeed Shelton. Her resignation was announced Sept. 9.

About a week later, Waste Management's attorney told City Attorney Bill Haywood that the company was renewing its offer of free garbage disposal at Cedar Ridge to Lewisburg if the city relinquished authority over the expansion. Doing so would restart Waste Management's application as it's being processed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Lewisburg's annual budget includes $130,000 for payment of dumping fees at Cedar Ridge. The figure may be high as a recycling program has been deemed successful in one quadrant of the city and is planned for expansion to all residents in town.

However, two other factors come into play. Even if the landfill is allowed to expand, there may be only five years left in the landfill's life expectancy.

The other factor is June 1, the date that Lewisburg's contract with Waste Management ends.

Waste Management's offer of free disposal was accepted on a 3-2 vote by the Council with Shelton and Brandon voting no. Voting yes were Councilmen Robin Minor, Phil Sanders and Hershel Davis.

While the Council voted to accept the deal, it could not be consummated because the same 3-2 vote prevented the city from relinquishing authority over the landfill's expansion.

As currently drafted, the Council's Oct. 28 agenda lists appointment of a new council member as the first item of new business. Fuller said he intended to add another topic on the proposed agenda: Consideration of landfill issues which might include reconsideration of Waste Management's offer, but probably discussion on Phillips' decision to tentatively schedule a landfill hearing for early November.

Appointment of a new member is only one step toward having that seat filled, according to Fuller, who pointed out yesterday, "You've got to swear him in."

The city manager was uncertain on whether that would be on that last Tuesday night of the month, or later. Normally, there's a swearing-in ceremony later.

Recognizing the complexity of the intertwined issues, Fuller called to ask the city attorney who has the authority to make an executive decision to call a hearing on the landfill. Without Haywood's availability, Fuller called Phillips, who decided late Thursday morning that a hearing could be scheduled and, if necessary, cancelled if the Council decided to do so.

"I will explain that to them," Phillips said, "That this was done to be in everyone's favor," and to keep options open.