Analysis: Landfill politics rides again

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Marshall County's August 2006 general election has been widely seen as being about two big issues - the landfill and a new rock quarry.

That conventional wisdom has been repeated, substantiated and qualified by close observers of, and participants, in local government during the three years thereafter.

One way it's been substantiated is in a simple reaction to the split over whether the state should let Waste Management expand operations at Cedar Ridge Landfill.

It goes like this: If a rock quarry is good for us, then the landfill is good for you.

Two local businessmen had been prevented from getting the needed votes to rezone land for a rock quarry next to the Pottsville Quarry owned by the Rogers Group in the north end of the county where community life and politics is centered around Forrest High School and Chapel Hill Town Hall.

Results of the 2006 election brought on commissioners willing to vote for a quarry.

That election also brought on several county leaders who have taken significant steps toward dealing with Waste Management's request for a new permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Three of them represent and/or live in the county district that includes the landfill. One is the county mayor who lives across the street from land bought by Waste Management. The company said it was to have a place to get dirt so it could bury trash as required by the state. Cynics say it's where the landfill might expand if it's allowed to continue beyond the permit that would appear to remain undecided.

Last week, TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke said he intends to deny an expansion permit to Waste Management for Cedar Ridge, largely because the company hasn't been able to prove that the facility can be operated without threatening the environment.

That issue is judged against a series of criteria that are, largely, about clean water, eco-systems and the viability of life forms and whether a waterway supports the purposes for which it exists.

There are other matters to be considered and they've been discussed, but didn't arise much during the public hearings.

They are about the human community's economic viability. Some business leaders have said that it's more economical for industry to have a landfill nearby because it contains their business costs.

Residential costs are becoming an issue.

One of the commissioners who represents the district with the landfill has been leading the county's effort to be ready if and when the landfill closes. A resolution is being perfected to outline what's to be done, and it includes a $160 annual fee to households not served by a municipality.

Lewisburg is the only town in the county that owns its own garbage trucks. Residents of Chapel Hill and Cornersville have trash collection service by Waste Management through a contract with their town. Petersburg has another private hauler providing the service that looks south to Lincoln County where much of that border town is located.

Cornersville is where Waste Management planned to develop another landfill. Opponents there recruited support across the county and vowed to help others resist expansion of Cedar Ridge.

Their political coalition exists, and it would appear that the tentative decision by the environmental commissioner is a victory for them.

Still, there's a public comment period and the commissioner will be looking for information that's relevant when a final decision is made.

TDEC officials anticipated an appeal regardless of what decision would emerge from the commissioner's office.

One of the steps after his final ruling will probably be a hearing before the state's Solid Waste Control Board.

The political campaign leading to Marshall County's next general election will probably be in full bloom next spring when the state board gets the appeal's paperwork. Then it's a matter of time before it's on the agenda and a hearing is conducted and a decision made.

Marshall County's next election appears to be shaping up to be about two things - the economy and the landfill.