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There’s some good news for those opposing the sale of the controversial NABORS landfill in Baxter County.
Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams convinced board members from the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District to vote to postpone the sale of the landfill to Lakeshore Recycling Systems indefinitely.
The vote was approved by all members in attendance.
“I can tell you as somebody representing people around Mountain Home and Baxter County, we are adamantly opposed,” said Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams. “There’s going to be a lot of objections and a lot of battles ahead.”
During its board meeting Thursday morning, members of the OMSWD took up the debate over their sale of the NABORS landfill to an out of state company.
On one hand, Boone County Justice of the Peace Fred Woehl, who has resumed his tenure as chairman of the board for OMSWD, argued that the sale was needed because the district had no funds to maintain the landfill in its current position and that the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality was failing in its oversight as well.
Woehl also stated that ADEQ would most likely pull out of maintaining the landfill even though the state agency fought a legal battle in the early 2010s to take control of the landfill. During the meeting, it was mentioned that the state had spent around $30 million to shut down the landfill.
“LRS would have to comply with ADEQ,” said Woehl about concerns of LRS reopening the landfill.
On the other hand, Adams and Michael Savu, the new mayor of Bull Shoals, pushed for a pause on the sale to allow the district to have more time to ask questions of LRS and ADEQ about what would happen if the landfill were to be open.
Sam Cooke, the president of the Friends of the Norfork & White Rivers, pushed to know if the public would be able to monitor what was happening at the landfill if LRS took it over. Cooke, and several other members of the group, spoke passionately about not re-opening the landfill, while giving details of some of the toxic substances that ADEQ was continuing to find in the ground water at the site.
It should be noted that ADEQ has a poor history of oversight with NABORS landfill. Many of the landfill’s previous owners, including OMSWD were out of compliance with state law when running the landfill. The ADEQ may be out of compliance itself with state law as toxic substances continue to leak into the ground water underneath its supervision.
Woehl stated that it was not the district’s job to police ADEQ.
Adams stated he found the state responsible for the mess, and argued that he would like to find a way to remove all of the garbage from the closed landfill.
At one point, Woehl asked if the Friends of the Norfork & White Rivers to give the district an offer for the landfill so that they could run it as they see fit.
During his update in the meeting John Verkamp, the main lawyer advising the district, stated that OMSWD was legally obligated to sell the landfill by Pulaski Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox, who oversaw the various lawsuits that ultimately shut down the landfill in 2014 after the district filed for bankruptcy.
Fox has been attempting to find a way to return money to Bank OZK, who sold the bonds needed to purchase the landfill to the district back in 2005. Bank OZK sued to recoup their money after the district filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
The district still owes the bank roughly $17 million for the purchase of the landfill.
Further in the meeting, Verkamp revealed that the sale of the landfill had ultimately stalled due to the lawsuit over the $18 tax imposed by the district on taxpayers following the closure of the NABORS landfill. That tax money has received split judgements as it worked its way through the courts, with one judge finding the tax unconstitutional and Judge Fox ruling that it was legal. Some of the money collected over the years has been reimbursed to taxpayers, but some $2 million remains in the coffers of the Pulaski County Circuit Court.
That money is waiting for a final ruling from Fox. Verkamp stated that he expects the case to go all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Until that happens though, the district is in limbo and the lien against its landfill continues to hang over their head. Neither side can appeal the case because no final ruling has been issued. At the same time, the district is ordered by Fox to sell the landfill. The outcome of that sale would involve input between the district, ADEQ and Bank OZK.
Fox would have the final say on the sale, with the money being directed to Bank OZK. According to the district’s own meeting minutes from last year, all three parties involved in the case want the sale to go through. Fox has also asked the district to come up with a plan to fully repay Bank OZK. Verkamp proposed paying back roughly $110,000 a year during last July’s board meeting.
If LRS were to purchase the landfill, OMSWD would see a $1 increase in its tipping fees per tonnage.
Woehl stated that even if the district voted to postpone the deal, the district could not back out until Fox signed off. Verkamp agreed with that assessment but stated that the district should go for the postponement.
Verkamp also noted that he wrote a way out of the sale for the district if they wanted to go through with that plan.
In the district’s July meeting minutes from last year, its is revealed that Verkamp spoke with ADEQ chief legal counsel and “tried to stress the importance of them moving as expeditiously in the permit process as possible.”
Verkamp goes on to state that the process would have to involve public hearings and due diligence. Yet, that narrative changed in November, with Verkamp going on record in the meeting minutes stating “DEQ wants to transfer the permit to LRS. A Certificate of Need will not be required. LRS wants to close by the end of the year.”
If ADEQ were to approve the permit process without the Certificate of Need, there would be no notice to the public or public hearings about the permit transfer. This contradicts ADEQ’s previous statement to the Observer where they said that no change to the permit would happen without public comment.
Both Verkamp and the district called for a public hearing with officials from LRS and ADEQ in today’s board meeting.
It should be noted that LRS has recently requested a permit to conduct subsurface investigations of the landfill. That permit can be found below.
As a final note of the meeting, the district agreed to host a public meeting at NABORS landfill on Feb. 24 at 10 a.m. This is an official meeting and is open to all members of the public.