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Berkeley commission changes mind on landfill

March 06, 1998

By AMY WALLAUER

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission reversed itself Thursday, voting unanimously to withdraw a letter sent to the governor last month supporting the removal of a daily tonnage cap at the North Mountain Landfill.

The commissioners agreed to send a second letter outlining the need for the 500-ton daily cap and a 9,999-ton monthly cap at the landfill near Hedgesville, W.Va.

The commissioners also will ask the governor and legislators to help them build an access road so trucks hauling garbage no longer have to use Allensville Road, the commissioners said.

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The commissioners said they were misinformed when they sent the first letter.

There appears to be some confusion about what limits, if any, LCS Services Inc. must observe in running the landfill.

Commissioner Robert Burkhart said that at the time the first letter was sent he was under the impression there were no tonnage limits at the landfill. He said he was told if the daily cap was no longer an issue, LCS would abide by a 9,999-ton monthly cap and terminate a lawsuit.

* On Thursday, Burkhart and Commissioner D. Wayne Dunham said they believe the 500-ton daily limit is in place, but the 9,999-ton monthly limit isn't.

* The current permit for the landfill run by LCS Services Inc., near Hedgesville, W.Va., sets a daily cap of 500 tons and a monthly cap of 9,999 tons, according to an LCS employee who asked not to be named.

* U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. in September issued an order declaring tonnage limits unconstitutional.

* New state legislation signed this week retains monthly limits on landfills.

"I've learned a whole lot in the past week" about the landfill, Burkhart said. "But even now, no one can tell me what the new legislation says."

The controversy began when the commission in mid-February sent a letter to Gov. Cecil Underwood that expressed its majority consent to lifting the 500-ton daily limit at LCS.

The letter was discussed in executive session on Feb. 19. The commissioners reconvened in the public meeting room at about 6 p.m. to vote on sending the letter.

Commission President James C. Smith and Burkhart supported the cap removal, Dunham did not.

At a public meeting last week, nearly 20 residents voiced outrage over the letter, which was not listed on the commission's meeting agenda. Some said the way the letter was sent was underhanded and questioned the commission's motives.

Smith said Thursday he was taken aback by the accusations.

"No one owns an ounce of me," Smith. "Never have and never will."

Some residents said they are pleased the earlier letter was withdrawn, but several said they remain unhappy about the way the issue was discussed.

"I'm glad they withdrew the letter, but I don't think they've learned their lesson, which is you have to involve the public," said Howard Strauss, a former county commissioner.

"A lot of the discussion last week was the letter never should've been written in the first place," said Clai Lashley of Hedgesville. "My feeling is the damage has already been done by the first letter."

The commissioners said the letter was sent in the hope of ending a lawsuit filed by LCS against several state agencies, the governor's office and the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority.

County Attorney Norwood Bentley said under a settlement plan, LCS would drop the suit in exchange for the daily cap being lifted. The 9,999-ton monthly limit would remain.

Settlement discussions are scheduled for March 13 with U.S. District Court Judge Craig Broadwater.

The commissioners said Thursday they were unaware of the problems at Allensville Road until residents told them at the public meeting last week.

At that meeting, residents said they have found medical waste, including hypodermic needles, on their street.

The commissioners said a new access road would alleviate some of the problems.

"I think it's going to relieve a lot of tensions," Dunham said.

Smith said he hopes those involved can work together to come up with options.

"I have a lot of reasons to think it's an opportune time to get actively involved in improving things at that landfill," Smith said.

Burkhart said when the legislators return from session, he'd like to have a public meeting to discuss options.

The commission can't force LCS to construct a different route to the landfill because LCS is a private corporation.

"It's not a matter of force. It's a case of cooperation," Burkhart said.

County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm will draft the new letter, which will be signed by the commission and sent to the governor.

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