Cincinnati, OH

Landfill Rules Subcommittee Update for Hamilton County

The Cincinnati Post
Rumpke donates $16K to campaigns to take over township board and head off work of Solid Waste SubcommitteeThe Cincinnati Post, adapted, 2021

On the heels of Rumpke dumping $16K into a Colerain township campaign in hopes of preventing regulation of the trash industry, the Hamilton County Solid Waste Subcommittee is set to meet and vote on rules for the industry this month. The subcommittee will meet on November 10th, at noon, at the Environmental Services Department in Clifton.

The charge of the Subcommittee is to determine, if and what, rules should be brought forward to the larger Policy Committee the next week, the 17th at 1:30, same location. If advanced, it will then go to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners for adoption, at the discretion of the board. It will change the entire dynamics of the waste industry in the county.

Currently, before the Subcommittee is Proposed Rule #1 drafted by Child Advocacy for Rights & Equity, Inc. and presented by Sharon Lutz, public and environmental advisor to the Subcommittee. The proposed rule, effectively, gives the county commissioners veto power over the Ohio EPA in determining is a landfill can operate at a specific location. It also provides criteria commissioners may consider in making their decisions whether to approve or deny an application from a solid waste facility. Some of the criteria include the impact on surrounding communities, proximity to environmental and historical features, and the presence of offensive odors, litter, or debris. Overall, the proposed criteria ask the commissioners to consider the best interests of the county when deciding if a company can open, expand and operate a landfill anywhere in the county. It is an extra level of oversight and provides all communities in the county with a safety net.

The Hamilton County Solid Waste Policy Committee, which has oversight of solid waste (garbage) and recycling within the county district, created a Rules Subcommittee at their September meeting. In October, they held their first "official" meeting - which was pretty much a bust. Nothing good happened. As one county employee, we promised not to identify and who was equally frustrated, called it, "A brain dump." Not unusual for a first meeting of any committee, but it defeated the purpose of expediting this process in order to address multiple solid waste facility activities on the block, including the Rumpke expansion on Bond Road and the re-opening of the Elda Landfill as a garbage transfer facility.

The second meeting of the subcommittee had originally been planned for after Thanksgiving. More importantly, after the November meeting of the full Solid Waste Policy Committee. This scheduling would have meant that the rules would not be considered for adoption until at least mid-January because the Policy Committee only meets every 2 months. Due to substantial uproar from the public, nonprofit organizations, and some subcommittee members, the meeting was moved up to November 10th. The explicit purpose was to have rules deliberated on and approved for submission to the larger Policy Committee at their November 17th meeting.

However, there was another fly in the ointment when the agenda for the meeting was released and it left little time for discussion nor any resolution for rules. As if that agenda was not packed enough, the staff amended the agenda and added 2 presentations. Now, the agenda included a discussion of Environmental Justice, a presentation from the MSD, and a presentation from the Ohio EPA, as well as, discussing the timeline for even proposing rules. The staff is again engaging in a "deny and delay" tactic to prevent the adoption of rules. It is extraordinary considering the chair of the Policy Committee, Commissioner Denise Driehaus has made it clear that she wants immediate progress on rule recommendations. She states in an email dated October 29th, acquired through a public records request, as to her intention for the subcommittee to provide a rule recommendation at the next meeting:

I am hopeful that the sub-committee will make a recommendation to the policy committee, and in turn the BOCC

The staff response was to add more busywork to the agenda after this email, clearly to evade passing the Proposed Rule #1. This will not sit well with the vast majority of subcommittee and committee members, much less the public that has been waiting for nearly 7 months for action. The county commissioners, themselves, are poised to act on recommendations of the committees immediately and may act unilaterally if the recommendations are not forthcoming.

The urgency lies in that the county is facing multiple projections for expansions of landfills and garbage transfer stations within the county. Hamilton County already hosts the 6th largest landfill in the country. The addition of these multiple other facilities will make SW Hamilton County the "Trash Capital" of the United States. Currently, trash is being hauled in from all surrounding counties, Indiana, Kentucky, and even small amounts from Illinois. Everyone seems to agree that Hamilton County has borne the burden of regional dumping long enough. Most all other counties have had rules for years to protect their neighborhoods for decades. None of the adjacent counties have a landfill nor the harms caused by them to people, neighborhoods, and the environment.

Further exasperating the problem is Rumpke. In a news report from the Harrison Register, Rumpke predicts it will be filing as soon as the new year for an expansion to their Bond Road facility that has sat dormant for over 20 years accepting only 1 truckload of garbage per year in order to maintain their permit. Also, Rumpke has used its political and financial might to ensure the election of 2 candidates to the Colerain Township Board of Trustees in order to hinder the progress of the proposed rules and remove a non-supportive representative from the Solid Waste Policy Committee by ensuring he was not re-elected.

Rumpke donated $16K in campaign contributions to ensure "Raj" Rajagopal lost his seat as a trustee which would require his removal from the Policy Committee. Rajagopal, who supports residents opposed to Rumpke expansions, was ousted from his seat with the help of $8K donations, each, to 2 competitors, Dan Unger and Cathy Ulrich received from Rumpke. Colerain, like every jurisdiction in the county, will be asked to vote in the next year to ratify the upcoming Solid Waste Management Plan Update, done every 5 years. The plan is expected to have major changes that will impact Rumpke's landfill operations. Because Rajagopal lost the election to Rumpke's 2 picks, he will not be able to cast a vote in the ratification process. The 2 candidates supported by Rumpke will determine if Colerain's weighted vote for or against ratification of the new changes goes forward. Since jurisdictions' votes are weighted by population, only the City of Cincinnati with a population of about 300K has more voting power than Colerain at about 60K. The commissioners would need to receive votes for over 400K people, half the population of the county, via their jurisdictional leadership to finalize the promulgation of rules passed by the commissioners at the time the Solid Waste Management Plan Update is ratified.

However, Rajagopal remains on the Policy Committee until Jan 1st. If Rumpke and staff can "deny and delay" a vote on the issue until after January 1, Rajagopal will no longer be able to support township residents in their desire to stop the growth and expansion of Mt. Rumpke. His final meeting on the committee will be, November 17th at 1:30, at the Department of Environmental Services building in Clifton. This will likely be Rajagopal's most consequential vote in his 4 years as a trustee. And, Rumpke knows it.

After January 1st, Rumpke will own the township and we might as well call it, Rumpke Township.

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