Landfill vote ruled invalid

Published 9:02 pm Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A judge has ruled in favor of the Town of Repton, in a long-running lawsuit against the Conecuh County Commission and a group hoping to put a massive landfill near the small town.

The ruling, entered Tuesday by Circuit Judge Burt Smithart, states that the host government approval by the Conecuh County Commission — made April 18, 2011 — is null and void, as is the host fee agreement.

The cities of Brewton and Atmore, along with the Escambia County Commission and Poarch Band of Creek Indians, joined Repton in its lawsuit, stating they would be adversely affected by the landfill and its impact on the environment.

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“The plaintiffs and intervenors have conclusively proved that they have suffered and will continue to suffer injuries and the threat of injuries from violations of procedures and standards that were designed to protect their concrete interests,” Smithart’s ruling states.

Al Agricola, an attorney for Conecuh Woods LLC, the company behind the landfill project, said he had not read the ruling and could not comment.
Also named as defendants in the lawsuit were the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Commission.

Conecuh Woods and other defendants could appeal the ruling, although it is not clear whether they will decide to do so.

“It’s a win for much more than just the town of Repton,” said state Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, who has been involved in passing a statewide moratorium on large landfills. “There were many entities in opposition, including Atmore and Escambia County. This was a huge ruling for us today. We are very excited.”

The lawsuit was filed just days after the Conecuh County Commission voted 3-2 to approve a landfill application from Conecuh Woods LLC in April 2011.

However, the fight against the landfill has been waged for more than six years, when a grassroots group, Citizens for a Clean Southwest Alabama, formed after plans for the potential 5,100-acre landfill came to light.

Plaintiffs in the case have argued that the landfill would be damaging to the environment and to home values, and also that the process for approving the landfill application was flawed.

Smithart’s ruling acknowledged that the plaintiff’s burden for a motion on summary judgment was “a heavy one.”

“The plaintiff must prove every element of his or her claim … the Court finds that the plaintiffs and intervenors have met their burden, that they have conclusively proved every element of their claims …” the ruling states.

In their landfill application, Conecuh Woods LLC officials said the landfill would accept household waste from 28 states, with as many as 321 trucks hauling solid waste along U.S. 84 through Repton to the landfill.

Smithart’s ruling also states that the host fee agreement, which was signed by former commission Chairman Wendell Byrd, was never offered for public inspection.

That was just one of the procedural problems with the application approval noted by Smithart.

“The commission approved the application in violation of exclusionary criteria set forth in the plan, which, among other things, prohibit the sitting of a landfill in wetlands; the commission failed to make the host fee agreement available for inspection, as required by (state law), before a vote on the application; the chairperson of the commission executed the host fee agreement without proper authorization; and the ATRC issued a statement of consistency without proper consideration and evaluation of the statutory criteria set forth in (state law) and the undisputed evidence that there is not a need for the proposed landfill in the region,” the ruling states.”

Repton Mayor Terri Carter said the ruling was bittersweet for her and others who have been fighting the landfill for more than six years. June Serraveza, a founding member of Citizens for a Clean Southwest Alabama, died suddenly Friday.

“(Serraveza) was the glue that kept us together,” Carter said.

CCSA volunteer Jo Evers said the group was pleased with the ruling, but agreed it was bittersweet.

“We are excited about the outcome of this case,” Evers said. “It has been a long hard fight that comes to an end with a bittersweet victory. June worked tirelessly with all of us, and we are just sad that she will only be here in spirit to celebrate. But we know she is celebrating; her love for life was contagious and she will truly be missed.”