The Hamilton County Solid Waste Policy Committee voted to end Rumpke's 50-year, unfettered power to determine landfill sitings in the county Monday. The Policy Committee voted 5 in favor, 1 against, and 1 abstention in moving a proposed rule introduced originally by Child Advocacy for Rights & Equity, Inc. (C.A.R.E.) in Spring of 2021. C.A.R.E. started the ball rolling, against great odds, into what became a boulder of change garnering support from a majority of the Policy Committee, the commissioners, other nonprofits, and residents.
It took months of relentless lobbying to get so many groups on board with the foreign concept of a power shift through rulemaking. However, eventually, Oxbow, Inc., Rivers Unlimited, the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, and a grassroots organization called Ditch the Dump pulled together. It was notable the absence of Colerain organizations, considering the township hosts the 6th largest privately-owned landfill in the country. Colerain groups like, Greater Northbrook and Greater Groesbeck Community Groups and Colerain: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow all refused to even share information about the public hearing. All 3 groups, controlled by Matt Teitsort, an elected official for the board of education with the NWLSD, and his associates, refused to share information about the project with their audiences. The school district has 4 schools and thousands of students living in close proximity to the landfill. Despite Tietsort attending multiple meetings of the rules committee, and all of them knowing the county was seeking public input, Teitsort evaded an ethical obligation to inform his constituents in favor of silence. (Recently, Rumpke donated over $16K to political campaigns in Colerain Township.)
What is changing?
First, Rumpke is no longer on the Solid Waste Policy Committee. They resigned Friday after C.A.R.E. sent an email, again, informing the committee that landfill operators are not permitted on these committees. C.A.R.E. also informed them that Rumpke had a clear conflict of interest participating as a committee member that was voting on an issue directly related to its business.
Secondly, Rumpke has always enjoyed the exclusive authority of a state EPA that is ranked near the bottom nationally regarding environmental standards. Rumpke's usual course of action is to quietly buy up land near or on an existing landfill, initiate activities while applying for a permit to the Ohio EPA, and - almost always - being granted that permit. Now, Rumpke - or any landfill operator - will need to get the permission of the county commissioners before being permitted "to construct, modify, enlarge, or operate a landfill" in the county. County Commissioners will be able to veto decisions by the Ohio EPA. The new rule will require landfill operators to apply for their approval. The rule provides a safety net for local control for the first time in the county's history. It is a huge pivot from industry control to county control that is sorely needed according to the documentary and testimonial evidence submitted to the committee and the county commissioners.
It is a welcome change in policy for residents.
Debbie Kastens pointed out that what Rumpke says and what Rumpke does are 2 different things. Referencing Rumpke's "Neighborhood Newsletter" distributed to residents near the existing landfill on Bond Road in Whitewater Township, critiqued Rumpke's claims. Kastens said the newsletter claims it "will improve traffic safety," she says, "for them, not us." She directs attention to a quote in the newsletter that says Rumpke "has no plans for immediate use," yet they have already completed demolition and are installing a new entrance to their facility to accommodate the increased truck traffic on tight rural roads, despite their newsletter knowingly misleading the residents via the newsletter stating, we "won't start for decades."
"I believe that's not true," Kastens says about the foregoing, then goes on to point out the discrepancies in the number of garbage trucks that will be entering the expanded site. Originally, we were told that the "permit (was only) for the entrance, they told people 20 trucks, now the permit goes to 40 trucks,... but somebody forgot to mention 400 trucks in the 'distant future'. That is not a small landfill."
Later in the meeting, after "Billy" Rumpke III had just promised transparency and presented a slide show depicting their supposed plan, he stated, the expansion sought "will be used for infrastructure" and "While it will provide additional disposal capacity, the primary intent is to improve the leachate and gas recovery systems." Well after Rumpke's presentation and the public comments, Greg Kesterman, Public Health Commissioner, who works closely with Rumpke on multiple projects disclosed, "It's my understanding that Rumpke plans to increase the maximum daily waste receipt ... from 100 tons to 1,500 tons per day....I think this committee ... and Hamilton County should be aware of that change."
Another resident that lives near the foot of what people are calling "Mt. Rumpke 2.0," Sandy Stehlin rattled off a slew of facts and unknowns about the conditions surrounding the location: " Rumpke is the largest methane emitter of landfills in the country;" the facility is sitting on the side of a hill with a senior community at its base; just across the road is the Whitewater River, a heavily used recreational waterway; and "the entire landfill site is a watershed". She is disturbed that no one seems to know the safety "specs" for a rural bridge that is permitting Rumpke garbage trucks to cross it daily without any assessment of the bridge's capacity. She questions the logic used by the Ohio EPA to ever approve a landfill in this area. Stehlin continues:
" when I attended school in Harrison in the late 1960's, we were known as farmers and hicks. ... Many of the people closest to the Bond Road / Rumpke fiasco are generally considered 'trailer trash'. ..We really don't want your Hyde Park, Indian Hill, and West Chester trash in our neighborhood. The west side has had enough of our air, water, and soil being used and abused for the rest of the county and the state."
Tom Tepe, attorney for Rumpke, convinced the Policy Committee to allow them a 15-minute presentation instead of the 3 minutes afforded others. Tepe stated,
We convinced the committee to remove a couple of the blatant illegalities that were contained in that," referencing the proposed rule, "but I'm afraid we have a long way to go. There is still more work that needs to be done... Slow down, let's do it right. Let's come up with some rules that are workable and objective and not subject to the whims of whoever seems to hold the particular seats at the time."
Tepe lodged a flurry of unfounded claims, such as the technical advisory council was an illegally formed entity - when in actuality, there was no "technical advisory council" at all. The subcommittee was formed at the bequest of Commissioner Driehaus to assist them in proposing rules. Tepe claimed that the commissioners were operating "outside the scope of authority" and the proposed rule:
Allows the county commissioners to have rules to prohibit any person... from constructing, enlarging, or modifying any solid waste facilities until general plans and specifications have been submitted. ..That's it! Nothing more! You have no other authority!"
Tepe was clearly unprepared for this presentation and wasted the time afforded to him focusing on unfounded legal claims and that the committee was acting "lightning fast." He insisted the committee must "slow down, do it right."
However, between the disclosure made by Kesterman and the advice of appointed legal counsel, Albion Bauer, the majority of the committee understood that Rumpke could not be trusted and they had to act expeditiously to protect the county residents and the environment.
The rule passed - overwhelmingly.
The Board of County Commissioners will be voting on whether or not to adopt the proposed rule on December 16th at 1 PM at the Todd Portune Administration Building. Public comments are invited.
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