Cincinnati, OH

Rumpke to be reined in by rules subcommittee as "County R3Source" re-brands its image and direction

The Cincinnati Post

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Landfill MountainGeneral Kinematics, Inc.

The Earth shook under Rumpke this week and it wasn't caused by dynamite blasting for their new expansion - this time. In fact, the quake came in the form of a new policy direction for the old County Recycling and Solid Waste District, recently renamed, Hamilton County R3Source. With the new re-branding of the program unveiled last week, came more than a facelift and new logo, the governing committee voted unanimously to take the district into an entirely new policy direction by establishing a rules subcommittee. This new approach is more consistent with the mission of the Environmental Services Department that oversees it, "to protect, preserve and enhance the environment" with proactive measures that will balance the power between the impact on citizens and the essential services necessary from the trash industry.

It is now inevitable that Rumpke is set to be reined in by the Solid Waste Policy Committee, that, for the first time in over 20 years, is seeking to impose rules on landfill operators in Hamilton County. On Wednesday, after 5 months of a contentious and often-heated battle between those opposed to the unfettered practices of Rumpke and the status quo, the policy committee voted to establish a rules subcommittee to recommend what standards should be adopted by the Hamilton County Commissioners and authorizing the subcommittee to seek expert, outside legal counsel, as opposed to that provided by the county prosecutor’s office.

This marks an about-face in county policy that is long overdue. The impact is far-reaching and could establish stronger protections for the environment while improving the quality of life for tens of thousands currently living in the shadow of Mt. Rumpke in Colerain. It gives hope to those in Whitewater and Harrison Townships who are opposed to an Mt. Rumpke 2.0 being built along the Whitewater River near Greenacres, a favorite recreational spot for river enthusiasts. Most importantly, preliminary proposals for rules include guaranteeing county and city citizens a voice in the landfill permit process that will be heard and determined locally by the county commissioners instead of the Ohio EPA.

The committee last considered utilizing their rule-making powers related to landfills in January of 2000. These rules can apply to the siting, construction, expansion, and operation of landfills in Hamilton County. The proposal was shut down quickly. The very next month, Rumpke was approved as a non-voting, “ex officio” on the committee and ne’er a word was ever spoken again of such nonsense. Rumpke is the 8th committee member on a panel that, statutorily, only permits 7 members. The law is unequivocal. It does not permit Rumpke on the committee. It states:

ORC 3734.54(B) [T]he solid waste management policy committee for a county district shall consist of the following members:

(1) The president of the board of county commissioners or his designee;

(2) The chief executive officer of the municipal corporation …

(3) A member representing the townships …

(4) The health commissioner of the health district…

(5) One member representing industrial, commercial, or institutional generators of solid wastes within the district…

(6) One member representing the general interests of citizens …

(7) One member representing the public…

Regardless, Rumpke has been sitting in the board room for over 20 years, but nobody seems to mind, except advocates representing the public who are sequestered to just 3 minutes at each meeting to convey the position of residents impacted by Rumpke's reign of unencumbered influence. While the Rumpke representative isn’t allowed to vote, he certainly has his say and access to the decision-makers. C.A.R.E. reported the violation of the statutes months ago and made a public records request to determine how Rumpke was appointed to the board when they have such a clear conflict of interest. The only documentation that was discovered was a legal opinion issued by the State Attorney General in 1994, that states:

Conflict of Interests. The fact that the General Assembly has so precisely delineated the number of members of a joint district solid waste management policy committee and the interests that they represent indicates that the General Assembly intended that a specific number and type of different interests be represented on the policy committee. Opinion No. 94-047 (ohioattorneygeneral.gov)

Larry Riddle, the representative of Rumpke, made use of his membership on the board at the meeting opposing the creation of the subcommittee. He was caught off guard by the establishment of the rules subcommittee, he protested,

- this board has no authority to establish regulations that are already established by the ORC. So, umm, I don’t think we are in a position, yet, to establish a committee to come up with some rules, regulations… We don’t have the authority to establish rules that dictate what the solid waste industry will do. I’m not sure I understand what the end game is.

Well, yes, they do have the power, now they are going to use it, and the “end game” is that under new rules to be introduced, the Rumpke monopoly will no longer dictate to elected officials on the township, city, and county level where landfills will go, and under what circumstances. Rumpke will no longer be able to hide behind the minimal standards of the OEPA to skirt public accountability. Rumpke will not operate unfettered without rules anymore.

Cincinnati City Council candidate, Kurt Grossman, offered assistance in getting these rules passed by providing integral legal research that helped close the deal for rules, “It has taken far too many years, but I’m glad to see the Committee has finally agreed to pursue rules to protect our community.” A handful of other candidates, jumped in to help drum up support at the last minute: Jaime Castle, LaKeisha Cook, Galen Gordon, Mark Jeffries, Nick Jabin, Michelle Dillingham and Evan Holt.

When C.A.R.E. made urgent pleas to the Smart Government Committee of City Council, just 1 day before the committee's vote, Greg Landsman, Jan-Michael Kearney, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young were in immediate contact with their representative on the committee to make clear their support for a new direction of County R3Source.

With the outpouring of support from the cities to the countryside, from politicians to voters, and on behalf of better health, better communities, and a better environment, we were all able to pull together for a better county.

Let us know what rules you think should be proposed to the county commissioners. We'll share them with the Rules Subcommittee and the Board of County Commissioners.

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