Marion commission: Let the public decide

The Marion City Commission voted 3-0 Monday to hold a non-binding election at the earliest possible date on the question of whether to be the community host for a regional landfill at the Martin Marietta Quarry northeast of town.

In response to questions from an overflow crowd of about 50 people, the commissioners also informally accepted a suggestion from City Attorney Dan Baldwin that he look into possible participation in the election by Centre Township or other interested areas outside the city.

The commission vote followed a description of a host community agreement reached by a city negotiating team and Waste Connections, Inc. Jim Little, company vice president, explained the agreement.

After some heated exchanges, Mayor Max Hayen and commissioners Jim Crofoot and Larry Reiswig decided to take a 15-minute executive session with Baldwin before the vote.

When they returned, Reiswig said: “This has been a really tough issue for all three commissioners. We want to make the right decision, and sometimes it’s hard to know.

“We all have some friends and family on one side and some on the other side. There is no doubt in my mind that the city of Marion could use the money. I feel like the agreement is a good agreement. Jim Little has been a good, good guy to work with.

“Often in a community our size there are four or five people who are against everything that comes along. They don’t want progress.

“The retail community downtown hasn’t progressed the last few years like I’d like to see. I’ve had people from downtown say they favor the landfill, but they’ll deny it if I say their names. I’ve had a farmer say he’s for it, but not to use his name because his landlords are against it and he can’t afford to lose the ground.

“I think it’s a good agreement, and we all said we would get around to whether to proceed with it or deny it. I feel responsible to the citizens of Marion. I’ve tried to get a sense of whether they are behind it or against it…. Half say they might leave if we get it…. Half may regret we didn’t get it if we don’t prosper several years down the road.

“The real enemy of a community like this isn’t the shopping malls or the Wal-Marts. It’s the attitudes of the people that decides whether it will prosper and grow.

“The community elected me. Until I feel like the community is behind it and supports it, I can’t be in favor of it.”

Bill Holderman said from the audience: “You said it right. You were elected to make the tough decision.”

Holderman pointed out that he had publicly favored the landfill, and that his barbershop downtown had suffered some because of it.

Reiswig said that 90 times out of 100, the commissioners do make the tough decision, but the landfill question is too divisive.

“If the community was behind it, I’d support it,” he said. “But if it’s not behind it, I can’t support it,” he repeated.

Crofoot said he’d had more calls favoring the landfill than against it the last few days. He imagined that any election would run more 70-30 or 60-40 one way or the other than a close split like the national election.

Shirley Groening, who lives near the quarry, asked, “Isn’t there ever going to be a time when we can put this behind us?”

Reiswig replied: “Where we’re at today, we can’t put it behind us. There will be hard feelings for years and years and years.”

Jess Richmond, speaking of his own status as a senior citizen looking for tax relief and reduced trash fees the landfill might bring, asked what the large number of senior citizens in Marion County are going to do without some kind of relief.

Reiswig said he was well aware of what the money could do.

“But I also don’t like the problems we might make for the unborn generation,” he said. “We don’t have anyone in this room certain of what might happen.”

Hayen said he has recently been all over Kansas, and 60 to 70 counties have the same problems as Marion County with large areas declining economically and senior citizens the only growing population.

“I think the census is going to show that Marion is one of those communities declining,” Hayen said. “There are 64,000 senior citizens in Kansas living on $7,500 a year or less. What are they going to do, and where are they going to go?

“I don’t like trash any better than you do, but we have to take a chance because it’s our last chance if we’re going to get something substantial.”

Groening said: “I am offended that you say the landfill is our last chance. We are capable of more, but we have to work together.”

Hayen said, “All of those communities out there are looking for something to come in from the outside to save them.”

Reiswig said, “You don’t have many opportunities to bring in an industry that can put this much money into the community in a year.”

Fruechting said he didn’t mean to belittle efforts by Dennis Nichols, city administrator, or Susan Cooper, development director, but he wondered why they were on the payroll to bring industries in if this was Marion’s last chance.

Hayen said Nichols and Cooper are working hard on the city’s behalf, but he warned that if a city is on a downhill trend, it is difficult to get an industry to invest there.

Action taken

Hayen made the motion and Crofoot seconded to hold the non-binding election-the only type of election allowed in this case, Baldwin said.

Theo Bond asked, “Do we want to include Centre Township, too?”

Margie Bennett said, “This isn’t just a city issue. It’s a county issue.”

Baldwin said he would look into broadening the election.

Brian Loomis, who recently finished a degree in environmental sciences at the University of Kansas, asked to speak about the landfill at the start of the meeting.

Loomis warned that the money Marion received for the landfill would be finite, lasting only a few years, while the trash would be there “forever.”

He said the landfill wouldn’t remain leak-proof, that at some point in time deterioration would allow pollutants to escape.

He said experience has proven that at some point, trash not approved would be dumped that possibly would act to deteriorate the landfill’s liner.

He said studies had shown the quarry location not to be a good one from the standpoint of water flowing to contaminate household water wells.

“I don’t like the odds that at some point in time future versions of you will have to face a deteriorating landfill and the infrastructure and money to handle it will be gone,” Loomis said. “When you are all gone it will be me and my children left to deal with it.”

Nichols, who with Reiswig and Keith Collett, local attorney, negotiated the tentative agreement with Waste Connections, outlined many of the same concerns.

On the positive side, he said the landfill revenue would assist the city on needs such as building a new swimming pool, completing industrial parks, paving streets, building a new water tower and water lines, improving sewer lines, and other projects.

He said the mill levy for Marion could be reduced. He said manufacturers with intensively high waste could be attracted to Marion with limited or no fees for trash and low property taxes.

Nichols said Marion lacks the infrastructure for major expansion for manufacturing, and can’t develop an industrial park without additional taxes. The community also lacks housing for expansion, and lacks an available employee force because of low unemployment.

Agreement outline

Little, whose company is headquartered at Sacramento, Calif., outlined the agreement negotiated with the city of Marion that was to have been approved or disapproved of at the meeting.

In the agreement, Waste Connections agreed to pay the city $1.75 a ton for each ton of waste received at the landfill with increases proportionate to increases at the Wichita transfer station.

Waste Connections would contribute up to $600,000 to Marion County plus technical and management expertise to properly close the Gross Landfill southwest of Marion.

Little said in practice the company might actually do the entire project, thus lowering the cost to $300,000 to $365,000, an approach that he said was favored by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

He was questioned by Bill Gross, who said his family had favored reopening the landfill to closing it, and Eileen Sieger, member of the county planning commission, as to whether the company planned to become involved in ongoing litigations concerning the Gross Landfill.

He said that Waste Connections has no intention to become involved in anyone’s liability, but was only agreeing with the city to do this if governing bodies enabled it to.

The agreement said a new landfill would provide free disposal service to all Marion and county residents.

It guaranteed fair market value determined by a local appraiser to adjacent landowners if they wish to sell with the landfill having the right to match offers or pay the difference between appraised value and sale value.

The landfill would route all traffic via K-77, K-150 and K-15 with $100 violation fees payable to the city.

Waste Connections would pay the city $100,000 non-refundable up-front to offset legal fees plus any additional legal fees.

The landfill would offer to buy KC Development’s transfer operation including property, rolling stock and 12 months revenue.

The landfill agreed to collect escaped litter daily within three miles.

It agreed to indemnify all city employees and commission members in any litigation concerning the landfill that wasn’t in violation of state or federal law.

Little said Waste Connections was attracted to the site because “we look for places with activities occurring there now that match up with what we want to do in the future. If it was just a farm with no truck traffic now, we wouldn’t match. Here we have an operating quarry.

“Because of this, there is a great deal we know about the environment and the physical properties of the site. There is good access from highways without going past schools or things of that type.”

He said the quarry appears to be removing a layer of limestone 10 to 20 feet thick that rests on a type of thick shale layer that tends to inhibit movement of water into the areas around it.

He said many hydrogeologic tests plus wells to monitor how water movement in the area behaves would have to be done to determine acceptability of the site.

If acceptable, a clay liner would be added covered by a 60-mil high density liner and sand leaching material all sloped to gather leachate that would be pumped out to take to plants that treat industrial effluents. he said.

Little said modern landfills want more water coming down to leach contaminants more quickly to remove them, so that the landfills are left more quickly with totally decomposed waste. Pipes are added to remove methane gas build-up, and put more water down as needed.

In response to questions from Loomis, Little said that modern landfills are designed to be piles of inert materials as quickly as possible with chemicals like benzene that might deteriorate liners more quickly leached out, and removed quickly. He said no more than 12 inches of fluid are allowed to build up.

He said water and microbes are encouraged to hasten decomposition. “It’s a bio-reactor or remediation cell.”

Harry Bennett asked if a system that kept trash spread out on the surface might not hasten deterioration more.

Little said it would, but it had not been cost effective so far.

Loomis asked if Waste Connections had to follow KDHE guidelines, and discuss viability of the site with the government agency.

Little said the company operated within KDHE guidelines, and had such a large investment that it didn’t approach any site lightly as though it was “something done every day.”

He said that if the agreement was made, the company would have a million dollars invested in investigating and planning the site as well as all the ground around it. He said if something like a large aquifer or cave was found that couldn’t be planned around, Waste Connections would back away from the project.

Little said: “Landfills are not the end of the world if managed properly. If we didn’t operate a facility right, no community would want to invite us in.”

He said Marion residents would be invited to tour the company’s existing landfills, and would find that they are well-run and clean.

More comments

Groening contested this saying she had heard complaints from neighbors of the Garden City facility regarding contamination from birds, odors and blowing trash.

Little replied that Garden City is now one of the best-run landfills in the country, and that any complaints might stem from older landfill efforts there that were simply holes in the ground. He encouraged Groening to visit.

Groening asked who would enforce the quality.

Little said KDHE would.

Groening said the enforcers would not pay attention to little people.

Larry Loomis asked with the cost of hauling trash 60 miles from Wichita why the company doesn’t locate closer to the city.

Little said Wichita had shunted the political responsibility to deal with the landfill, and that it was politically expedient for the city to just not deal with it.

Harry Bennett pointed out to Little that deals with other landfill companies and landfills hadn’t always been without polluting slip-ups or backing off legal requirements.

Little said, “The bottom line is that we are doing everything here up front with you from the get go.”

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