Archive for Sunday, August 22, 2004

Court ruling backs Wichita-based trash hauler in quest for landfill

Decision opens way for regional garbage facility in Harper County

August 22, 2004

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— A state appeals court ruling appears to open the way for development of a regional landfill in southern Kansas, but the implications for the state's largest city are not immediately clear.

The Kansas Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Harper County commissioners were within the law in 2002, when they approved a regional landfill.

That overturned a lower court's ruling last year that the commission acted improperly in selecting the site for the landfill, which would be built by Waste Connections.

The Sedgwick County Commission already has voted to build a local landfill. However, Waste Connection -- which handles 60 percent of the county's trash and now takes it 150 miles to Meno, Okla. -- would haul it to Harper County instead if a landfill can be build there.

That could make construction of a Sedgwick County landfill less likely, with so much of the county's trash going to a site only 45 minutes southwest of the city.

A Waste Connections official praised the court's decision, which he said would provide benefits across the region.

"It allows us to move forward with our regional landfill, which will solve the solid-waste issue not only for Sedgwick County but all of south-central Kansas," said Jim Spencer, division vice president.

But a group opposed to the landfill likely will appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court, its attorney said.

"We're disappointed in the decision and obviously have a different view," said Jeff Emerson, the lawyer for Tri-County Concerned Citizens, which sued the Harper County Commission and Waste Connections.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment had started a review for a landfill permit at the Harper County site, before the lower court's decision put that process on hold.

"We don't have a whole lot more work to do, if we are authorized to go back to work," said Bill Bider, director of waste management for the agency.

In its ruling Friday, the appeals court ruled that there was no evidence of political bias by county commissioners against landfill opponents.

"We have concluded that the evidence does not demonstrate that any of the commissioners exhibited an 'irrevocably closed mind' on the issue before the board," the court wrote.

Two commissioners who approved the landfill decision are no longer in office. One did not seek re-election, and one was the target of a successful recall effort.

Waste Connections appealed the lower court's decision after the current County Commission declined to do so.

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