Canton Repository

March 1, 2003

Lawmakers block plans for landfill

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Ohio Reps. Ralph Regula and Bob Ney have blocked approval of the proposed Ridge Sanitary Landfill through a little-known and rarely used legislative mechanism.

Opponents of the project, they put language into a congressional spending bill that prevents the Army Corps of Engineers from evaluating or approving the landfill.

Norton Environmental of Independence, a landfill operator, wants to develop a 345-acre disposal site on an abandoned strip mine it owns in northwest Tuscarawas County. The site is south of Wilmot.

The project has drawn fierce opposition from area residents, politicians and organizations, who fear it would contaminate a large aquifer that supplies water to tens of thousands of Ohioans.

Opponents include the city of Canton, Stark County and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, as well as Sens. Mike DeWine, R-Cedarville, and George Voinovich, R-Cleveland.

If Norton Environmental could win approval from the Corps of Engineers and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, it could proceed with the project despite objections.

The Regula-Ney provision prevents the Corps of Engineers from spending any public money “to support activities related” to the proposed landfill.

Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, came up with the idea. As a longtime member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, he is familiar with the complexities of the spending bills that the committee writes and approves.

The language in the bill, which President Bush signed into law, is “one way of stopping an agency,” Regula said Friday. It will prevent the Corps of Engineers from “signing the necessary papers to allow things to go forward.”

Ney, R-St. Clairsville, described the unusual provision as “creative in a good way.” It’s a safeguard to prevent the landfill from going forward in the event that it would receive approval from the Corps of Engineers and the state, he said.

An attorney from Norton Environmental, however, said it might be illegal.

“To pick out one particular site and say, you’re not allowed to review that permit, we’re not going to fund you to review that permit, to me sounds like certainly an illegal act,” said Joe Balog, general counsel for Norton Environmental.

Balog had just heard of the funding prohibition and said the company would have to study its options. He called it a temporary obstacle rather than something that will kill the project.

Ginger Mullins, regulatory branch chief for the Corps of Engineers’ district office in Huntington, W.Va., was unsure what impact it would have on its work.

The proposed landfill site is on the north edge of Ney’s district, just south of Regula’s adjoining district.

Ney and Regula went to Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, who slipped the provision into a $397 billion spending bill that Congress was hurrying to complete and finally approved Feb. 13. Hobson, a member with Regula of the Appropriations Committee, is chairman of a subcommittee that approves funding for the Corps of Engineers.

“Ralph thought of this direction and I agreed with him 100 percent,” Ney said.

The landfill plan drew widespread opposition last August, when the Corps of Engineers and the state EPA held a public hearing on it.

Balog said Norton Environmental has proven to the EPA’s satisfaction that the landfill would not endanger the water supply.

Asked about Balog’s claim, an official with the EPA said the agency’s district office reported to its central office that the landfill “will be protective of the environment.”

“That means that the potential for it affecting the aquifer system is deemed safe under the laws of Ohio,” said Brian Queen, environmental specialist in the EPA’s division of solid and infectious waste management. The EPA has not yet approved the landfill.

The project also must win approval from the Corps of Engineers because it would involve filling in wetlands and streams on the site.

Regula isn’t worried about legal challenges.

“We can put anything we want into that bill,” he said. “We’re funding the Corps of Engineers. We can tell them, ‘Spend money fixing up this river or don’t spend money on this project.’ The Corps of Engineers has to operate within the confines of the law, and this is now the law.”

The spending restriction will expire Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends. When that happens, said Regula, “We’ll put it back in again” in the next spending bill.