County hit with $35m lawsuit by owners of old landfill

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAAFF
Marion County Landfill, Inc., and MSW, Inc., past and present owners of the old county landfill near Aulne, filed a civil suit in district court in Marion Wednesday seeking $35.375 million in damages against the Marion County Board of Commissioners and three past and present members of that board.


The suit alleges that the board committed a breach of contract by failing to act on separate permit applications submitted by the plaintiffs to legally operate Subtitle D landfill on the site.


The suit names former commissioners Jack Bruner and Linda Peterson as well as current commissioner Robert Hein as co-defendants.


The suit asks for a monetary judgment “in excess of” $375,000 against them and the Board of County Commissioners on behalf of MCLI, plus $5 million to MCLI and $30 million to MSW, Inc., for “present and future lost profits.”


The suit also asks that the board be ordered to sign off on certification that operating the landfill is consistent with the county’s solid-waste plan and with zoning regulations.


The suit was filed in Marion only a few days after Judge Steven Hornbaker of the Eighth Judicial District ruled that Marion County would be responsible for cleaning up and closing the old landfill, located southwest of Marion.


As part of his ruling, Hornbaker found that the county had improperly denied MCLI and MSW, Inc., a permit to continue operating the landfill after the original permit had expired upon the death of former owner Tom Grosse in 1993.


After Grosse’s death, MCLI was formed by members of the Grosse family to assume official ownership of the landfill. By state law, the permit to operate the landfill could not be legally passed on to MCLI.


Even so, MCLI was allowed to operate the landfill from 1993 to Oct. 9, 1996, without a permit on assurances to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that the board would take responsibility for properly closing the landfill.


In June 1996, the suit alleges, the board entered into an agreement with Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) of Kansas that the company would pay the closure and post-closure costs of the landfill if it were granted a permit to operate a landfill in the county.


But the suit alleges the board did not follow through on its promise to certify the property as consistent with the county’s solid-waste plan.


Because of that, the suit alleges that MCLI was unable to complete a sale of the property to MSW, Inc., and that both parties were harmed financially as a result.


MSW, Inc., has brought similar lawsuits against the county in the past, but to this point they have not been successful


Leroy Wetta, current chair of the board of commissioners, said late last week that he had not seen the lawsuit and therefore could not comment about it.

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