Landfill question festering

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
With Solid Waste Director Morgan Thomas at left, Chapel Hill Alderwoman Marion Joyce, Commissioner Tony White, Robert Cheney of Waste Management and Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel, right, anticipate a state decision on whether Cedar Ridge Landfill should be expanded.

A gavel struck on the meeting room table last week in Marshall County's Courthouse Annex punctuated a long-simmering debate centered on expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill.

Without a decision on expansion from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, elected officials from Marshall County and its municipalities are, among other things, bickering over who attended which meeting with the state.

One was held Oct. 12 in Nashville. Another was Oct. 13 in Lewisburg. Some in the second meeting didn't know about the first. Discussion on that led Commissioner Don Ledford to bang his gavel during one more Solid Waste Committee meeting about how to refine a resolution on a $160 fee if the landfill can't expand and must close.

Allegations about officials meeting outside the parameters of the state open meetings law had been raised at a previous committee meeting, so after Commissioner Billy Spivey offered his conclusion, others reacted about the October meetings.

"There were some games being played here," Spivey concluded. "I decided not to whine about it."

Nearly a dozen county leaders reacted, so Ledford banged the gavel more than twice.

"That's enough," he said. "When I call you to order, I wish you'd abide by it."

The meeting adjourned but the question remains. Will TDEC let Cedar Ridge expand? If not, the county must raise money to fund a short-term solution for trash disposal. That could cost each county household $160 a year if they're not served by a municipality.

"A final decision should come toward the end of next week," County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said a couple of days after Ledford's Solid Waste Committee met on Nov. 23. Liggett was quoting state Solid Waste Management Director Mike Apple, the TDEC official charged with making the decision. Apple was said to be meeting about the landfill with two state geologists and their report would be done early this week.

TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart has declined to confirm the timetable Liggett reported.

How the county bills households is a technical issue to be resolved. It will be moot for several years if the landfill expands, making the leaders' work questionable and frustrating.

That's led to disputes over the two October meetings.

The Oct. 12 meeting included: Apple, Spivey, Maury County Mayor Jim Bailey, Chapel Hill Mayor Carl Cooper, Chapel Hill Administrator Mike Hatten, Chapel Hill Alderwoman Marion Joyce, Maury County Solid Waste Director Mike Sweeney, Solid Waste Management (SWM) Deputy Director Glenn Birdwell, SWM Field Office Coordinator Philip Davis and TDEC Land Programs Senior Director Chuck Head.

The Oct. 13 meeting included: Apple, Birdwell, Davis, Liggett, Cooper, Commissioner Don Ledford, Lewisburg Mayor Barbara Woods and Cornersville Mayor Amos Davis.

Given the positions taken by the various groups and the allegations over courtesy, the frustrations prompted one official to provide a public record from TDEC's field office in Columbia.

It shows that Ledford and McKnight signed in and out of the building at the same time on the morning of Feb. 26, 2007. The implication from the source is that it's hypocritical to complain about the two October meetings.

Ledford and McKnight dispute that.

"We went over there on a fact finding mission and I gave a power point presentation on what we were told," McKnight said Tuesday. "It was when we got into the expansion" question about the landfill.

Furthermore, the county's contract with Waste Management is interpreted by then county attorney Lee Bowles as prohibiting commissioners from objecting to landfill expansion, although they may give personal opinions, McKnight said.

Asked about the trip nearly three years ago, Ledford said he went "to find out what was going on with Cedar Ridge. It was a fact-finding mission for me."

Meanwhile, the Solid Waste Committee is meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday in the Courthouse Annex.