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County votes to appeal landfill permit

Robert Pell puts his hand on Redbone Road, one of the thoroughfares that might be used by trucks hauling garbage to a landfill OK’d in the area. Pell said he is “very against” the landfill.(Jenny Sevcik The Vicksburg Post)

[10/21/03]Warren County supervisors voted Monday to appeal last week’s ruling by the state permitting board that would allow a small private landfill in southern Warren County.

The decision, made by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality permit board on Oct. 14, gave owners of the W.T. Ewell Landfill site approval to begin construction on 10 acres near Jeff Davis Road in the Yokena area.

The approval at the state level “got us out of the loop,” District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale said Monday. “The legislation was supposed to have us in that (loop).”

The site was previously approved by the state and added by supervisors to the county’s comprehensive waste handling ordinance. But it was not developed, and new legal requirements now in effect would make the application process more stringent.

Lauderdale’s motion to appeal the decision to Warren County Chancery Court passed 3-1, with supervisors Richard George of District 5 and Michael Mayfield of District 2 voting in favor.

Supervisor Charles Selmon of District 3 cast the dissenting vote. District 1 Supervisor David McDonald was on jury duty.

The Oct. 14 decision, made following an evidentiary hearing the same day, reversed the initial decision it had made on the project in June.

Then, MDEQ attorney Roy Furrh said the case was the first of its kind to go before the board. County boards generally decide such matters, he said.

This case was different, he said, because the landfill business partners, Betty Ewell and Paul Kelly Loyacono, have held a permit for it since before major changes in environmental law took effect in 1991.

Changes made then require landfills such as the Ewell project to be part of overall plans approved by each county’s supervisors. And they tightened technical specifications for building landfills.

The owners say the landfill will lower disposal costs for area consumers and have letters of support from some area firms.

MDEQ staff has said that, though Warren County supervisors have incorporated the Ewell project into their plan, there was no need for them to have done so for the Ewells’ permit to remain valid. The owners have provided technical specifications for their project that comply with the new laws, MDEQ staff has also said.

In proposing the appeal during Monday’s meeting, Lauderdale repeated supervisors’ argument to the permit board that, if the Ewell project is not grandfathered in for technical purposes, it should not be for planning purposes either.

“Based on the current technical standards being applied” for the reissuance of the landfill permit the board has now granted, the Ewell plan “should be considered as an amendment to the plan and processed as such,” Lauderdale wrote in testimony to the permit board.

Supervisors voted 4-1 late last year, with Selmon also dissenting then, to petition the MDEQ for county veto authority over the plan.

The permit was issued in 1986 with no expiration date other than when the landfill was filled. Though the site has not accepted waste, the business partners have twice proposed expansion of the permitted area, in August 1996 and in September 1998. Both attempts drew strong opposition from speakers at public hearings, and neither was successful.

Neighbors of the landfill site have argued that any landfill would change the character of their neighborhood, create truck traffic with the road wear and noise and air pollution it brings and the risk of pollution from leakage from the landfill itself.

Any expansion of the site would require approval by the county board of supervisors.

LeTourneau Volunteer Fire Department chief Robert Pell, one of 100 or so area residents who attended a Jan. 16 MDEQ public hearing in Vicksburg on the proposal, said Monday he agreed with the supervisors’ vote to appeal.

“I don’t see how (Loyacono) can say it’s not going to cost taxpayers any money,” Pell said, adding that increased truck traffic would increase the county’s road-maintenance costs. Among roads leading to the proposed site from U.S. 61 South are Jeff Davis, Ring and Redbone roads.

With the permit board’s decision, the landowners are free to begin operating the landfill. Any further investment they made, however, would be subject to loss if they lost the case on appeal.

The permit board’s June 3 decision was 4-2 against greenlighting the landfill plan. Loyacono called it “political.”

On Oct. 14, the decision was 4-1 in favor of the proposal.

Of the seven eligible voters on such matters, two cast yes votes at each meeting. The other two yes votes cast Oct. 14 were by one member who had voted no June 3 and one who was represented on June 3 by a stand-in who had voted no.

The remaining two June 3 no votes were accounted for by one who abstained and one who was absent Oct. 14. The Oct. 14 no voter had abstained June 3.