Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Landfill owner sues city

Gray Road Fill ordered closed

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The owner of a Winton Place landfill that Cincinnati officials ordered shut down last week is asking a judge to issue a restraining order against the city's “illegal action.”

        In a suit filed Monday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, the owner of Gray Road Fill says city building officials were pressured into closing the landfill by politicians seeking to cur ry favor with voters.

        “I will not surrender in the face of a politician bent on pandering to special-interest groups just three weeks before an election,” said fill owner Roy Schweitzer.

        He claims city building inspectors — who approved a series of permits for the landfill since 1985 — flip-flopped after being criticized by City Councilman Todd Portune last week.

        That's when council members were told the landfill could grow four times larger than permits allow because of a bureaucratic loophole.

        When revised grading plans for the fill were approved, building officials said they didn't realize it would be used to quadruple the landfill size from 820,000 cu bic yards of fill to 3.3 million.

        But a day after telling the council that there was no legal remedy, building officials reported the fill was operating illegally and could be shut down.

        They also said C&D Waste Services, which hauls construction debris to the fill, should be ordered to cease operations.

        “This landfill has been a problem for more than a decade,” said Mr. Portune, who is running for county commissioner. “Our intent has been clear — we tried to shut this place down a year ago.”

        Calling the lawsuit a “bunch of legal gobbledygook,” Mr. Portune said the only actions he took were to ask why a council order to limit fill operations last year was never acted upon.

        Neighbors, who have for years protested the landfill as noisy and polluted, said Monday they are not surprised by the lawsuit.

        “We will continue to fight,” said Chris Monzel of the Winton Place Community Council. “It will not stop us one bit.”

        On Monday, several residents met privately with city lawyers, building inspectors and officials with the the Metropolitan Sewer District and the health department.

        MSD sent a stop order to the landfill Friday because tons of waste has been piled atop a 66-inch sewer line.

        They say the landfill had a permit to lay 65 feet of waste on top of the sewer — an 80-foot strip inside the landfill. In some areas, that waste tops out at more than 100 feet.

        The concern is that the debris might break or damage the sewer line. MSD will check the pipe for damage this week.

        “That's a hell of a load,” Hamilton County Commissioner Tom Neyer said when told of the extra debris piled on top of the line. “They're running a shady operation, by all appearances.”

        MSD officials said the landfill applied for the original permit through the city building department in 1989, which MSD signed off on. A second permit went through the building department last year, but never received MSD approval.

        They said they weren't aware of any increase in fill levels until last week.

        Mr. Schweitzer has said repeatedly that he is operating within all permits and further claims the city has no jurisdiction over the fill, which is regulated by state law.

        “Arguments concerning whether Gray Road Fill, Inc., has violated the fill volume limit contained in the permits and engineering changes issued by (the city) are an unnecessary academic exercise,” the suit alleges.

        Mr. Schweitzer said that if the fill is shut down then he will abandon plans to construct a light industrial park on the site that could employ up to 3,000 people. Construction was supposed to begin in 2001 and include hiking and biking trails and a picnic area.

        At least one council member says that has him willing to reconsider his decision.

        “I made a mistake,” said Councilman James Tarbell, adding that his vote was based on resident complaints. “It has become obvious that a middle ground needs to be reached here.”

        He said it does nobody any good if the site is abandoned.

        “Then the city gets nothing out of it and the residents get nothing,” Mr. Tarbell said. “Do you just let it sit there?”

        Reporter Dan Klepal contributed to this story.



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