Judge orders geologist to testify

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

NASHVILLE -- A federal judge ordered a state geologist to testify next week about who pressured him to ease the way for an expansion of a Marshall County landfill that is now the subject of a lawsuit.

Neighbors and an environmental group are suing Waste Management and its Cedar Ridge Landfill in Lewisburg. They claim the dump has polluted surrounding land and water with chlorides, ammonia, nitrates and silt, according to a Nashville newspaper.

Waste Management has denied the claims.

In an earlier deposition, lawyers with the state attorney general's office stopped geologist James Clark from answering questions about closed-door negotiations with Waste Management officials to expand the site.

Clark, who has been inspecting the landfill for at least a decade, had been among Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation staff who advised against allowing the expansion.

The state denied a permit for the project in April 2010, saying there have been "persistent, documented surface and groundwater impacts associated with the site."

After Waste Management filed an appeal, state officials began working out an agreement in private that mapped out steps the company must take in order to expand.

Clark testified in his deposition that he was pressured to find a way to approve the expansion, but state attorneys stopped him from testifying about who had pressured him.

He also was prevented from saying how the state decided that boring two holes into the proposed expansion site "fully resolves the long-standing concerns of a collapse," according to a filing by plaintiffs' attorney Elizabeth Murphy.

The state had argued that information about the negotiations should not be made public because it was privileged, claiming that the agreement with Waste Management was a settlement equivalent to a legal settlement in a court case.

"We were objecting because the questions being asked and documents sought were getting into the negotiations that were going on," said Joe Sanders, general counsel for the state environmental department.

Middle District of Tennessee U.S. Magistrate Joe Brown ruled that the settlement was really just an extension of the permitting process and was subject to the state's Public Records Act.