Citizens turn out to question landfill decision

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER

The foresight of the Marion City Commission in attempting to reopen negotiations with Waste Connections, Inc., for locating a regional landfill at the Martin Marietta Quarry was called into question by constituents at the Monday commission meeting.


Lou Wegerer asked Mayor Eloise Mueller if, when she said the city should seek to continue negotiating with Waste Connections, that meant there had never been a discontinuation of negotiations.


Mueller said negotiations had not continued after they had ceased, and that her words-or the newspaper account of what she said-had been a poor choice of words.


Wegerer noted that the city had looked into getting the landfill once and decided against it. He asked what had changed since then.


Mueller said the time is right for reconsideration because of the Marion County commissioners are trying to complete the interlocal agreement with cities concerning the contract with KC Development, operators of the transfer station, and because of the judgment against the county that might reopen the landfill southwest of Marion.


Wegerer asked Mueller how she expected to successfully negotiate with a multi-million-dollar corporation without being taken advantage of.


Mueller said she would negotiate with Waste Connections just as she would with any business no matter the size. She said she would rely upon the regulations and expertise of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and stay mindful of the economic benefits to the community.


Wegerer said the results of having a landfill will still be here 30 years from now and even 100 years from now. He wondered what benefits there might be from it then.


He questioned whether authorities are sure on environmental concerns, since they require test wells located around the landfill.


Mueller said there are former landfills in California with housing being built on them with no problems. She said she wouldn’t want to contaminate water or harm the environment either, but she would trust federal and state regulators to prevent harm.


In the absence of harm, Mueller said, “It could be a wonderful thing for our community.”


Wegerer said the Harper County Commission has rejected having a Waste Connections landfill. He asked, “What makes us different than them?”


Mueller said, “I hope it’s because we have more foresight than they do.”


Wegerer said he travels frequently in his work, and that people from Abilene to Kansas City hearing about the potential landfill ask him, “What is wrong with Marion? Why would they want such a thing?”


Mueller said there already is a hole in the ground for the quarry, and with the four-county solid waste authority looking at another site near Roxbury, she couldn’t tell if that site would be any better.


Wegerer asked if with the “Groening and others” lawsuit against the city to prevent annexation of the quarry unsettled, the city still considered the quarry as annexed.


Mueller deferred to City Attorney Dan Baldwin who said that with the annexation in litigation, it has been the city’s position that if the judge finds some technical problem with the annexation, the city wouldn’t consider it annexed. However, he said the city doesn’t believe it did anything wrong in the annexation procedure.


Wegerer asked if the city is collecting sales tax and property tax from the quarry.


Baldwin said neither of the taxes is being collected as a courtesy to the quarry because until the litigation is settled, “it would create more problems than it will solve.”


He confirmed for Wegerer that Marion County also still maintains the road into the quarry from U.S. Highway 56 instead of the city.


Wegerer asked if “it isn’t like walking on egg shells” legally for the city to allow Waste Connections to pay legal costs on the Groening lawsuit. He suggested that it gave the appearance of hidden deal making between the city and the company.


Mueller replied that Waste Connections’ commitment to pay the city’s legal costs had been “up front” in the previous negotiations, and with Baldwin acting as attorney, “I think we know what we’re doing.”


Mueller felt she couldn’t answer a question from Wegerer on what had forced the end of the previous negotiations because she wasn’t in office then.


City Administrator Dennis Nichols, who served as a member of that negotiating team, said that the final position had been that there wasn’t adequate compensation being offered by Waste Connections.


Commissioner Bud Pierce interceded to bring up previous questions saying that monitoring wells are required under federal and KDHE rules on a Title D landfill, and that it has nothing to do with the perceived safety of a certain landfill.


Pierce said he has been involved in county and city governments concerning landfills going back 30 years when KDHE required Marion to abandon a city dump, and go to a landfill.


“Our other choice has been incineration, but that has gobs of problems, and costs a lot of money too,” Pierce said.


He added that the Harper County site is on sand soils that don’t work well for landfills, and that KDHE prefers the clay soils like those around Marion.


Diana Costello asked what was happening with the city’s proposal to Waste Connections to resume negotiations.


Baldwin said Waste Connections has sent word that they won’t do anything until the Harper County situation is completely closed. He said the company also is aware that Marion needs to clarify the annexation situation legally before the quarry site is available.


Costello said that even in the current situation she thinks the city of Marion’s twice weekly trash pickup is a “frivolous” use of resources when only one pickup serves the purpose in many communities.


Costello said one pickup would reduce the tonnage of trash, but it would reduce the equipment wear and employee hours allowing savings to be spent on encouraging curbside recycling thus also saving landfill space.


Costello said that her own children aren’t allowed to be told one thing by one parent, and then go try to negotiate a better deal with the other one. She said the city needs to be “up front” in trash negotiations.


Costello asked, “Why are we dealing on this,” and asserted that appearances of dealing behind the scenes with Rocky Hett, whose family owns the quarry land, “underhanded and unethical” dealing need to be avoided.


Costello said the city is not following the plans the county has made as a member of the county or relying on the expertise or good faith of the people in the county who have worked on solid waste disposal.


She asked, “Why are you even doing this as a city council when you have your place?”


Costello doubted that Waste Connections would be concerned with possible long-term pollution of the water aquifer under the quarry, but only with satisfying short-term regulations.


She criticized the commissioners for not listening to their own neighbors who include experts in soils, geology and engineering that say the landfill is an unsound idea.


Mueller said she would expect KDHE to act in the best interest of the people.


Costello said Mueller has been in politics long enough to realize that an overworked government agency like KDHE can’t be expected to oversee everything.


Costello said she isn’t willing to take a chance on children’s welfare with a landfill that might be located less than a mile from the high school football field and the grade school playground.


Costello said, “I don’t want to see this town ruined for future generations of people because of our greed for money. I encourage you to make the best use of county resources and make the best decisions for our county.”

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