2 County Commissioners see eye-to-eye and approve landfill rules due to public outpouring; change the balance of power

The Cincinnati Post

Commissioners Driehaus and Dumas see eye to eye on rules for solid waste; pass resolutionHamilton County BoCC, via YouTube

Commissioners Driehaus and Dumas see eye to eye on the need for rules for Rumpke. For the first-time ever, they passed a rule to regulate the solid waste industry at a cram-packed meeting with overflow crowds in the chamber's ante. The rule gives commissioners veto power over the Ohio EPA to decide if any disposal facility is "constructed, modified, expanded, or operated" in the county. It also sets criteria under which the commissioners can deny a facility, such as impact on: property values, odors, litter, local jurisdictions, and recreational activities in the area. (Starting at page 8 of the "rule" link.)

For over 20 years, most of the counties surrounding Hamilton County have passed rules or have a "siting strategy" that requires a review of the criteria they established locally. The passage of this rule puts the county on a level playing field with our neighboring counties when it comes to waste disposal standards. The failure to create rules or a siting strategy has made Hamilton County the dumping ground for all trash in the region. Over half of all trash hauled into "Mt. Rumpke" comes from outside Hamilton County despite each county-district being required to provide for their own waste disposal. Mt. Rumpke has about 30 years of disposal life left. If surrounding counties managed their own garbage, we'd have more than 60 years of disposal needs met for county residents.

Reece voted against the new rule. She opposed it citing Prosecutor Joe Deters' "threatening" assertion, as Dumas portrayed it in the meeting, that the county will incur "very, very costly" litigation and the commissioners were acting at their "own peril" if they pass the rule. Dumas and Driehaus, both, recognized the threat as a mere delay tactic. Reece felt she didn't have enough information to vote for the rule, but made it clear, she was not intending to "stand in their way," that the other commissioners had more experience in office. Reece's fear, given Deters' comments, was the county might be feeding into the old adage, "The lawyers get paid and the community gets played." (Given her comments, she probably should have abstained her vote rather than vote "no".

Since Rumpke has a monopoly in the region, Rumpke feels like its operations are the target of the rule and - of course, they are. They are the sole landfill and hauler in the county - in the region, in fact. Rumpke has repeatedly alluded to suing the county if they exercise their power at this time. Rumpke uses the threat of litigation as intimidation. It usually works.

Except, about a dozen people came out to speak at the commissioners meeting promoting the resolution to adopt rules: Oxbow, Inc., Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, Rivers Unlimted, and Child Advocacy for Rights & Equity, Inc., (C.A.R.E.) who proposed the initiative to adopt rules back in April. The commissioners received hundreds of letters and emails. And several political jurisdictions pledged support for the rule-making via letter. Six such jurisdictions passed formal motions: the cities of Cleves, Harrison, and Mt. Healthy and Crosby, Harrison and Miami Townships.

Driehaus is the chair of the Solid Waste Policy Committee which fielded C.A.R.E.'s proposal. For over 6 months, the Solid Waste Manager and the prosecutor's office insisted there was no such provision in the law for the commissioners to adopt and enforce rules pertaining to garbage handling.

After waiting for several months for the county prosecutor's office to issue an opinion on the breadth and scope of the commissioners' authority, for naught, C.A.R.E. introduced their own legal opinions. In mid-September, C.A.R.E. produced court cases (ClarkCo the precedent case in Ohio) wherein the courts opined that the county districts clearly had authority to pass rules and specified the limits to such authority. The director of C.A.R.E. told the Policy Committee during a meeting, "Don't listen to her (pointing her finger at Michelle Balz, the program manager). Don't listen to me, I'm not a lawyer. Don't even listen to the county prosecutor (again, pointing her finger, this time at the county assistant prosecutor, Nee Fong Chin). Listen to what the Federal District Court and three judges on the Ohio Appellate Court have said." She then proceeded to quote the decisions verbatim.

Before the meeting ended, 5 of 6 voting members present took the issue around the prosecutor's office and forward. The agreed to seek outside legal counsel that is an expert in the field and they formed a subcommittee on behalf of the county commissioners to explore the scope of their powers and to propose rules to be forwarded to the county commissioners for adoption.

Today, Driehaus and Dumas adopted the first rule in county history against the advice of the county prosecutors office. C.A.R.E. said at the meeting, "There is no doubt that with any other board, this rule would not be up for a vote." Dumas and Driehaus saw eye to eye on the matter and went against the prosecutor's unsolicited opinion, but with overwhelming support from nonprofits, political jurisdictions within the county, and the outpouring of public support.

Dumas commented on her position regarding the opposition from the prosecutor, "I need to do the right thing and the right thing is to pass these rules."

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