Cincinnati, OH

Criteria for constructing/expanding landfills proposed; Rules Subcommittee to consider Lutz proposal

The Cincinnati Post
Solid Waste Rules Subcommittee meeting, discussing rules that give the county veto power over the Ohio EpaThe Cincinnati Post

The biggest step forward toward approval of landfill rules didn't happen during the subcommittee meeting Friday. It happened when Sharon Lutz, the "public perspective" advisor on the subcommittee, grabbed the bull by the horns and drafted her own proposal for how to secure the future of Whitewater Township and Hamilton County. Lutz spent the week since being appointed to the subcommittee researching the options, bending the ears of professionals in the field of environmental causes and legal drafting, and untold numbers of residents in order to form a proposal that was viable, addressed the concerns of every faction and accomplished the need for county oversight of landfill operations and development.

The Rules Subcommittee has been charged with proposing rules for the adoption by the county commissioners. The plan is for the subcommittee to propose rules to the main Policy Committee. The Solid Waste Policy Committee will review, debate, and vote on which rules to move forward to the Board of County Commissioners. The county commissioners plan to hold public hearings to get the pulse of residents, make adjustments as they deem appropriate, and then vote on whether to pass the new rules promulgated for the first time in Hamilton County history.

The primary rule to be considered is whether or not to require every landfill operator to gain approval from the commissioners, as well as, from the Ohio EPA, in order to construct, modify, expand or operate a landfill. It appears that the Board of Commissioners is fully in support of such a rule. It is a power vested in every district to the head of the jurisdiction. Most jurisdictions have been exercising this power and established a process for it, nearly 20 years ago.

Not in Hamilton County.

Nobody can explain why the county has never acted on the powers vested in them considering they have the 6th largest landfill in the country in their backyard. For over a decade, Colerain residents have begged for intervention by the county Solid Waste Policy Committee. The last time the issue was brought up was in January 2000. Colerain refused to ratify the district plan because there were no rules to restrict the location - known as siting - of landfills. County Administrator Jeff Alutto was the director for the solid waste policy committee at that time. Alutto has been well aware that the commissioners had the power to make rules. However, he remained silent to the fact for the last 6 months, allowing a bitter dispute to rage over whether the commissioners had such authority under law.

Despite Colerain residents protesting the expansion, time and time again, the solid waste manager, Michelle Balz, insisted there was no remedy to stop these expansions. Colerain has been saddled with the burden of not just all the county's waste, but garbage being dumped on this township from all the surrounding districts and as far away as Illinois, for decades.

In March this year, Child Advocacy for Rights & Equity, Inc., discovered the body of law that gave the commissioners the authority to establish rules and to either approve or deny any prospect to create or alter a landfill operation. Upon presentation to the solid waste manager and director, C.A.R.E. experienced significant opposition wherein the staff insisted she was not reading the law properly. Having the law on their side and the example of other neighboring districts who had implemented that law over a decade ago, dug their heels in and made lots of enemies. C.A.R.E. described the opposition to her proposition as "horrible" and "abusive," but C.A.R.E. was really shaken to ITS core when learning through a public record's request that staff members were receiving "opposition research" from Rumpke to paint the organization as a gadfly and her assertions as unfounded.

"It took us 6 months of research and a steely heart to withstand the opposition to rulemaking," that immediately included a dismissive attitude from the board of commissioners due to staff influence. Once granted permission to do a 30-minute presentation to the board, the permission was withdrawn and has never been permitted since

Recently, the solid waste manager did a presentation before the commissioners. Commissioner Reece pointed out that, obviously, based upon the statute, "we have the authority to do this ... yet we've been telling the public we don't." Reece went on to insist that the solid waste management team make the subcommittee meetings public, to put it on zoom to be accessible, to establish a timeline, to finally obtain a valid legal opinion, and to permit the public to have input into any meetings on this issue.

While these provisions helped significantly with being open and transparent, the first meeting of the subcommittee was unproductive. The meeting lacked structure and no progress was made, although a lot of venting on the personal interests of attendees occurred. Sharon Lutz had intended to introduce a measure to create the first, and necessary, rule for the commissioners recommending they pass an application and county permitting process. However, there was so much back and forth, that when Lutz asked if this was approved, she was led to believe that the county had already passed such rule and that they were moving forward with the factors the commissioners can consider when making a decision whether to approve or deny any particular landfill. Lutz was a strong voice advocating on the environmental issues, particularly clean water, as to factors to be considered by the county. Lutz then dropped her proposal on the subcommittee at the end of the meeting, making it the first issue on the agenda for the next meeting. She gave them a lot to think about.

The chair of the committee, Tony Dipuccio, who was nominated by Rumpke's representative, scheduled the next subcommittee meeting for more than a month later. Not the expeditious process Commissioner Reece was insisting on. This made Rumpke - and staff - happy because it continued the "deny and delay" strategy that had been going on for 6 months. Rumpke's objective is to prevent a proposal like Lutz's from making it to the floor and running out the clock so that Rumpke receives their permits from the Ohio EPA before the higher standards by the county are approved.

This was a huge win for Rumpke.

Others, including some subcommittee members, some staff, and 2 nonprofits have raised protests on the timing and asked that the commissioners to direct the subcommittee to reconvene, again, before the next Policy Committee meeting in mid-November instead of after.

We are waiting for the county's response.

Below, is the comprehensive proposal submitted by Sharon Lutz, specifying the factors to be part and parcel of the rule that initiates a dual County- Ohio EPA approval process being mandated before any person can construct, modify, or expand any landfill / solid waste facility. In other words, Lutz's proposal would give the county veto power over the Ohio EPA in their ability to permit a landfill structure. Lutz did a great job representing a broad array of concerns in compiling the proposal. It has been described by outside attorneys as, "laudable" work. Lutz distributed her proposal after the meeting, giving all the subcommittee members something to think about while awaiting the commissioners' decision on whether to direct the subcommittee to reconvene immediately instead of permitting the "deny and delay" games to continue.

The only thing to be on the next meeting's agenda at this time is Lutz's proposal.

Tell us what other factors you think should be added or removed from the 16 criteria proposed.

Below is the full text of the proposal.


The board of county commissioners, directors of the Hamilton County Solid Waste District, hereby exercise its authority under ORC 343.01 (G) and 3734.53 (C), to adopt, publish, and enforce rules governing solid waste facilities and the maintenance, protection, and use of solid waste collection, storage, disposal, transfer, recycling, processing and resource recovery facilities within the district and requiring the submission of general plans and specifications for the construction, enlargement, or modification of any such facility for review, and approval, as complying with the Hamilton County Solid Waste Management Plan, and the Board shall not approve the construction or modification to any solid waste facility in the district where the construction, modification or operation shall not adequately demonstrate to the Board that the construction or modification and subsequent operation of the proposed Solid Waste Facility, resource recovery facilities, waste-to-energy facilities, or other facilities that manage solid waste, that will:

1. Not have a detrimental impact on waters, streams, creeks, and aquifers (with water monitoring).

2. Be installed, operated, and maintained to be harmonious and appropriate in appearance and use with the existing or intended character of the area.

3. Be consistent with the goals, objectives, projections, and strategies contained in the Plan Update.

4. Not be detrimental to the economic welfare of the community.

5. Not involve the excessive production of traffic, noise, smoke, fumes, or odors that may interfere with the rights of other residents or businesses.

6. Not result in the destruction, loss, or damage to a natural, scenic, or historic feature or tourist activity.

7. Not adversely affect property values within the surrounding community.

8. Not adversely affect financing for the implementation of the Plan Update.

9. Be adequately served by essential public facilities and services.

10. Not create excessive additional requirements at public cost for public facilities or services.

11. Not have vehicular approaches to the property that create interference with traffic or change the designation of a road.

12. Not have a detrimental impact on the health, safety, or preservation of plant or animal life forms.

13. Not have a detrimental impact on environmental justice in siting new and expanded landfills.

14. Not permit the receipt in the district of wastes wherein adequate home recycling bins are not provided to each residence.

15. Not permit the open face of a landfill to exceed (fill-in-the-blank) acres for active dumping and wherein the open face is covered outside of operational hours which shall be limited to those times necessary to conduct business and during normal business hours when feasible.

16. Be in the best interests of the district, residents, and businesses

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