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Baxter County’s Quorum Court has officially passed its ordinance to ban the opening of new or existing landfills within county limits.
The ordinance, which was approved by the county’s legislative affairs committee last week, is a direct response to the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District’s attempt to sell NABORS landfill to Lakeshore Recycling Systems, an Illinois based company who has plans to reopen the landfill for new garbage intake.
Ordinance to outlaw new and reopening landfills
During the legislative affairs committee meeting last week, Baxter County Judge Kevin Litty and members of the court unveiled a new proposed ordinance designed to prohibit the development of new or reopening solid waste landfills within the county’s limit.
Also addressed in the meeting were concerns that Lakeshore Recycling Systems and the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District are close to finalizing the deal to purchase the controversial landfill. Litty, one of the waste district’s newest sitting members, said he did think LRS was not quite ready because the company is still working to complete several tests as a part of its due diligence. The deal will ultimately have to be signed off 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.
David Ethridge, Baxter County’s prosecuting attorney, said he backs the court’s plan to pass the proposed ordinance, but noted that the county could face future litigation by those parties involved in the sale.
“I think there’s potential for litigation,” Ethridge said during last weeks meeting. “I serve at the court’s pleasure, the county judge’s pleasure. I have to inform you what I think is a possibility. Do I think that should ever keep the quorum court from acting as they feel like is right for the citizens of Baxter County? Absolutely, not. I have to tell you all there’s potential. I think they’ve got a long way to go to litigate against us, but it’s possible.”
The end of the year sale surrounding NABORS landfill has garnered a lot of public attention over the past few months. The deal, which was set to be closed by Jan.1, was pushed back, bringing some hope to the public that the deal could be called off.
And attempts were made to call off the deal. In January, during the OMSWD’s montly public meeting, Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams secured the vote by the entirety of the board to postpone the sale of the landfill.
During that meeting, John Verkamp, the main lawyer advising the district, stated that OMSWD was legally obligated to sell the landfill by Judge Fox.
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.
Verkamp also revealed that the sale of the landfill had 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. The case is expected 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 still under orders by Fox to sell the landfill.
While Fox has the final say on what happens, all three parties currently involved in the case want the sale to go through. If LRS were to purchase the landfill, OMSWD would see a $1 increase in its tipping fees per tonnage. Most of that money would likely wind up in Bank OZK coffers until the district fully paid off their debts
Fred Woehl, the current chairman of the OMSWD, 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.
Woehl, who has been an critic of anyone that has spoken out against the sales, ultimately blamed the situation on the taxpayers of Baxter County, lamenting that complaints and lawsuits over the $18 fee forced them to sell the landfill and that the county had wanted to build the landfill in the first place.
“Baxter and Carroll County is the reason this landfill is here,” Woehl said during a public meeting that was held at the landfill last month. “Marion County had nothing to do with it. Boone County had nothing to do with it. Searcy County had nothing to do with it. It was Baxter and Carroll County that got this landfill going. That’s the problem they have dumped on the whole district is that area right there. And then when it turned upside down, they tried to get out of it.”
While it’s technically true that Baxter County had a role in opening NABORS landfill back in the 1970s, at the time it was under private ownership. In 2005, after changing hands several times, the landfill was purchased by the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District for the purpose of bringing extra revenue into the district’s coffers.
The district, which included Marion, Boone, and Searcy counties, was completely fine with taking over the landfill, but now that the landfill has become a headache due to mismanagement and its ultimate closure, Woehl appears to be trying to lay the sole blame for those failures at the feet of Baxter County.
Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams, one of the most outspoken members against the sale on the districts board, rebutted those comments stating he would “take the coin toss” on whether taxpayers in the district would have to bear the financial costs of keeping the landfill closed. Adams has publicly stated that he believes that ADEQ and the state are to blame for the issues surrounding the landfill since they continuously gave out permits despite knowing about the public’s concerns.
If the sale does go through, and LRS does receive the go ahead from ADEQ, company representatives have that they could potentially have the landfill re-opened for business within six to nine months of the sale being finalized.
It is unknown how the company will react to the county’s ordinance to ban the reopening of previously established landfills.
Other court news
In other news, the court appropriated $12,5000 from the special jail fees fund into the jail maintenance and operations budget for 2023. That money will be used to purchase spike strips and light bars for jail vehicles.
The court also appropriated $10,000 from the county general fund into its building and grounds budget. That money will be used to make upgrades to the Baxter County Courthouse.
An additional $1,200 was appropriated from the general fund into the veteran’s service office’s budget to help support the annual Veterans Office Benefit Fair.
The court also passed an ordinance allowing the county to do business with Mike Watts for auto body repairs. Watts is married to a county employee and Arkansas law requires that the court grant approval of the business contract.