Senior Staff Writer
Marshall County planning commissioners on Tuesday are to consider proposed zoning code changes that would clear a path toward another expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill.
That's the traditional approach to amending the zoning code, but County Commission Chairman Mike Waggoner on June 28 said, "I don't want to restrain these guys," meaning Waste Management Inc.
So, as commission chairman, Waggoner claimed that he "can direct" where a resolution would go on its way toward enactment, clearly preferring that this proposed change on landfill requirements go directly to the commission.
Commissioner Seth Warf asked if the zoning code change proposal should be considered by planning commissioners and, Waggoner, the man who succeeded Mary Ann Neill on the county commission, spoke against delay.
Waggoner's reasons against delaying the resolution included the prospect of renegotiating the contract between the county and Waste Management on host fees. They're paid by the company to the county based on how many tons of garbage are deposited. Currently, they're evenly split between payment back to the company for convenience center operations and the other half pays for county Solid Waste Department operations. It's suggested that the money could be split three ways with some of it going to the county's general fund to supplement other department operations.
County commissioners would still be able to vote as scheduled July 23 on whether to change their restrictions on landfill expansions, but planning commissioners will be passing judgment on that idea six days earlier at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 17, in the second floor meeting room of Marshall County's Courthouse Annex at the corner of First Avenue and Commerce Street on Lewisburg's public square.
Waggoner has repeatedly stated that he does not want to be contacted for comment outside the parameters of a public meeting. He's explained that as chairman he's doing just that, leading meetings and, effectively, piloting the county's boat.
Subsequent to the Thursday, June 28, solid waste committee meeting, the chairman asked County Clerk Daphne Fagan to advertise a public hearing before the commission's July 23 meeting so county residents could express their opinions on the proposed zoning code change. The hearing is set for 5:30 p.m. July 23 in the Courthouse Annex.
Fagan's responsibilities don't include scheduling hearings, so she contacted Don Nelson, the county building official who serves as the planning commissioners' staffer.
Fagan "brought it to me and I called Waggoner, suggesting that he consult the county attorney for proper procedure for this matter," Nelson said Thursday.
Three county attorneys had opined that zoning matters must be considered by planners who would make a recommendation to the commissioners. That's common practice in many counties where, as here, county commissioners can receive a recommendation against a zoning proposal and then adopt the resolution anyway.
Nelson received a subsequent call from Waggoner who, Nelson said, " told me to put it on the agenda" for the planning commission's July 17 meeting.
That's the regular meeting time, but the landfill zoning code is the only topic for that 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 17, meeting in the annex. Without the landfill issue to consider, planners wouldn't be meeting that night.
The recommendation for the landfill zone adjustment was discussed during the May meeting of the Solid Waste Committee, but Commissioner Anna Childress was absent because of the birth of a grandchild. A committee vote in May was therefore delayed until June.
Several county commissioners were called after the June 28 meeting of the solid waste committee. Some were unaware of the proposal.
"This is the first I've heard of it," said Commissioner Barry Spivey, chairman of the budget committee, "so I'm not familiar enough to make any type of comment. From the sound of it, I'll be hearing a lot about it."
Asked if during annual budget building meetings there had been discussion of tipping fees paid by the landfill to the county, Spivey replied, "We touched on the tipping fees. The question was whether we'd get any. We didn't know whether to put them in or not. That was during an early discussion on the budget."
The solid waste director, Morgan Thomas, "has been running" his department "on fund balance for two years and he's got some things going for recycling."
Cedar Ridge Landfill was shut down for more than a year as it neared a required closure when its permitted areas would be full. It's open again now, but on a limited basis as more trash is being redirected here for burial and the company can use a state permit. The permit's use became possible because a court case was settled.
Commissioner Mickey King is also on the budget committee and when contacted about the proposal for another expansion, he recalled a statement from Waste Management when it bought adjoining property where the expansion is proposed.
"I thought they told us years ago, that they bought that just for fill dirt," King said in a reference to a state requirement that trash must be buried daily. "I think we've got it in the minutes that that they said it was just for fill dirt.
"We need to get a lawyer to look at this; not just their lawyer, to see what we're doing," King said of the resolution to change the zoning code.
"Right now, I'd have to say I'm against it until I get to see it exactly," King said. "We need to look at changing the codes real hard. We may have to get a lawyer to look real hard on these codes...
"Are we just playing into their hands," King asked. "Should we just wash our hands and say let them do it? But we need to have some say so on what they're doing.
"I believe it has to go to the planning commission," he said. "I'm pretty sure it does, now."
As for Waggoner sending the resolution to the county commission, directly, King said, "The chairman is a commissioner like the rest of us."
Commissioner Nathan Johnson said he was "not privy" to the resolution on changing the zoning code.
However, "I don't have a problem with expansion," Johnson said. "I know that in the past we've gotten a lot of money from the company" from tipping fees.
Nevertheless, Johnson's early reaction to a description of the proposed zoning code change was like that of other commissioners. He wanted more information and expressed a willingness to keep an open mind.