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Landfill vote causes tons of trouble

February 26, 1998

By AMY WALLAUER

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - More than 50 Hedgesville, W.Va., residents attended Thursday's Berkeley County Commission meeting to oppose lifting a daily tonnage limit at a landfill near their homes.

They were reacting to a letter the commission sent to Gov. Cecil Underwood expressing its majority consent to lifting the 500-ton daily limit at LCS Services Inc. on Allensville Road near Hedgesville.

Commissioners say they still favor the 9,999 monthly cap.

The commissioners voted 2-1 to send the letter at about 6 p.m. Feb. 19 in their meeting room at the courthouse following an executive session in which they discussed the letter.

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"We put them in there to look out for the welfare and benefit of the public, and then they work to benefit corporations," said Bruce W. French, of Hedgesville, said earlier this week.

The commissioners defended their actions, saying the vote took place in a public forum and anyone could have attended.

"In the most emphatic ... way I can say it, we did not (vote) in executive session," said Commission President James C. Smith at Tuesday's commission meeting.

"Because somebody doesn't stay (for entire meetings,) it's not our fault," said Commissioner Robert Burkhart.

Yet the residents at Thursday's meeting were skeptical.

Some questioned Smith's ties to LCS, while others called for a legal investigation of the commission's actions.

The letter

In the letter to Underwood, the commission says it supports the daily cap removal because that's the only issue holding up settlement of a lawsuit.

The suit was filed by LCS in May 1996 in U.S. District Court. Among the arguments in the 72-page complaint: A daily cap prevents the landfill from doing business, and assessment fees imposed by the county and state are too high.

The Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority is one of several parties named as defendants. The others are the governor's office, the state tax department, the Department of Environmental Protection, the office of Waste Management and the Public Service Commission.

On Thursday, Smith said settling the suit is a priority because the Solid Waste Authority is an arm of the commission.

Edgar Mason, treasurer of the authority, said, however, that the authority is an extension of the state agency of the same name. Two of the 11 members are appointed by the commission, he said.

Mason said a settlement over the tonnage cap was never brought before the authority - it was brought to Smith directly from LCS, which prompted some to question the motives behind the letter to the governor.

Dusty Williams, manager of LCS, said Thursday that he couldn't discuss the lawsuit or pending proposals because the issue is in litigation, but confirmed there is a document being reviewed by the parties involved. He didn't say which parties.

"Quite obviously, the agreement does say it will stay in the four 9s," Williams said. "If there's a (monthly) limit, it obviously will make it a little easier so some days if the tonnage exceeded the 500 limit, we still have the cap at the end of the month."

A hearing has been set for March 13 before U.S. District Judge Craig Broadwater on a proposed settlement.

Ray Gano, a former member of the Berkeley County Planning Commission, has drafted a resolution to the attorney general calling for an investigation into allegations that the meeting and subsequent vote violated the Open Governmental Proceedings Act.

The resolution suggests county attorney Norwood Bentley has a conflict of interest. He is employed by the same law firm that has provided legal service to LCS in the past, and may still be affiliated with the landfill, the resolution said.

Agenda question

Commissioner Wayne Dunham opposed the letter, while Smith - who is not seeking re-election - and Burkhart voted in favor of it.

County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm said this week the landfill item was not listed on the agenda because it fell under the generic title of administrative issues. The agenda does not list items under that heading because they have a tendency to change at the last minute, Sheetenhelm said.

Smith said LCS would still abide by the 9,999 ton per-month cap if the daily limit is lifted, but the suit is dragging on too long and costing taxpayers money.

Opponents list several objections to increasing the landfill's daily dropoffs: Additional traffic on W.Va. 9, possible contamination of the geological fault line the landfill sits upon and biomedical waste some residents say they've seen on the side of the road.

"We've found surgical gloves on the side of the road and needles which have fallen off the side of the trucks," French said earlier.

Wendy Griffith, press secretary for Underwood, said she doubts the governor has seen the letter because he's been in Washington, D.C., all week, but the office has received telephone calls from concerned residents.

"We received about a dozen calls on Friday (Feb. 20) expressing concern about the 500 daily tonnage cap," Griffith said. "The Department of Environmental Protection issues permits, but there is nothing in the law that addressed daily tonnage caps. This is the only landfill in the state with a daily cap because this landfill, the owners, agreed to the cap when the permit was issued."

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