Environment and Government

Law targeting controversial landfill only fuels fight: Would-be operator, citizens group are back in court

September 1, 2008

Even for those with a vested interest in the battle over a proposed landfill near Anderson, it's hard to get too worked up over the latest twist before the courts or government agencies.

After all, the Mallard Lake Landfill battle is in its 29th year.

The latest development, one that opponents of the project had hoped was the silver bullet to fell their garbage Dracula, is starting to look just as inconclusive as countless other chapters, at least for now.

That silver bullet was supposed to be Senate Bill 43, signed into law during the last session of the Indiana General Assembly. A part of the bill crafted by Sen. Tim Lanane and Rep. Terri Austin-both Democrats from Anderson-requires a new round of reviews and approval for landfill projects initially OK'd more than 20 years ago but which had not accepted waste by the end of last March.

But Ralph Reed and sons, who've long wanted to put a landfill on their 254-acre farm near county roads 300 East and 300 North, are as tenacious as ever.

In March, their waste venture, J.M. Corp., put up a sign at the proposed site, "Mallard Lake Container Collection System Open to the Public."

Their arch nemesis, nearby residents under the name of Killbuck Concerned Citizens Association, complained it was a blatant attempt to circumvent SB 43. A couple of months later, KCCA filed a lawsuit in Madison Superior Court, seeking a declaratory judgment to effectively force J.M. Corp.'s compliance with the new law.

KCCA wanted to force the Reeds' J.M. Corp. to go back before the county board of zoning appeals, which approved the landfill in the 1980s. The neighbors reasoned the project wouldn't comply with laws and regulations enacted since then.

"They're trying to get around [SB 43]," said Bill Kutschera, KCCA secretary. "It doesn't look like that's going to happen, but they are going to try."

Indeed. In August, J.M. Corp. filed suit in Madison Superior Court asking for a change of judge and a change in venue.

Plain and simple, "it's bad law," Reed attorney Ronald Fowler said of SB 43 and its attempts to "retroactively apply laws.

"That's never been successful in the past."

J.M. Corp.'s Indianapolis-based legal counsel, Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP, recently sent a letter to Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter, arguing that the new law is unconstitutional.

Observers say not to look for any rulings in the court cases until sometime in September.

Opponents have long argued that the Reed property is a poor site geologically and geographically for a landfill because leaks would contaminate Anderson's water supply.

The Reeds disputed studies cited by KCCA and said their facility would meet the latest environmental standards.

J.M. Corp. contends being lost in the debate is the potential benefits of the site in helping Anderson and Madison County deal with waste. Shipping garbage out of the county costs Anderson taxpayers alone about $750,000 a year, argues Fowler.

The KCCA argues that the potential benefits are outweighed by risks, such as birds attracted to the landfill, creating a hazard for aircraft using the nearby Anderson Municipal Airport. They also warn of a dangerous parade of garbage trucks on narrow county roads and the likely closure of an elementary school directly across from the Reed property.

The group also worries that the Reeds might be receiving the backing of East Coast trash firms, saying they find it hard to believe the family has been able to afford high-priced legal counsel after filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2003. Ralph Reed laughed aloud, denying such a claim, when asked about it last year.

Even now, "they're showing no signs of financial exhaustion," the KCCA's Kutschera said of the Reeds.

"The potential payout of this landfill is just too great for anyone to walk away at this point."
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