Canton Repository

May 13, 2005

Judge: Regula cannot block landfill

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has ruled against an innovative legislative mechanism used by Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, and Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, to block the proposed Ridge Landfill in Tuscarawas County.

Due to the efforts of Regula and Ney, Congress has passed legislation every year since 2003 that includes a rider preventing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from reviewing the Ridge proposal.

But on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Patricia A. Gaughan in Cleveland ruled the rider is unconstitutional. She also ordered the corps to resume its review of the proposal, submitted by Norton Construction Co. in Independence.

The decision raises doubts about the ability of Congress to stop not only the Ridge Landfill in northwest Tuscarawas County, but also the proposed Indian Run Sanitary Landfill in Stark County.

Norton wants to develop a 345-acre disposal site on an abandoned strip mine it owns south of Wilmot. The Ridge site is in Ney’s congressional district, but close to the Stark County line, which is the border of Regula’s district.

Opponents, including Regula, worry that additional landfills in the area could leak and contaminate aquifers that are a source of drinking water.

Regula, vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, came up with the idea of stopping the landfill through a legislative provision that bars the corps from spending any funds it receives from Congress to review the Ridge proposal.

Norton filed suit against the corps in November 2003, after the corps refused to review its application.

In her ruling, Gaughan said the rider violates the company’s right to equal protection under the Constitution. She said it singles out Norton’s proposal without prohibiting other developers from seeking to build a landfill in the area.

“There is simply no logical basis to prevent the expenditure of appropriated funds as to plaintiff’s proposed landfill in the name of protecting the region’s natural resources, but not extending this limitation with regard to any other landfills or landfill operators in that region,” she wrote.

The U.S. Justice Department, which represented the corps in the litigation, is reviewing the decision and has not decided whether to appeal, a spokesman said. The department has 60 days to appeal.

Norton and its attorneys did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Regula was unavailable to discuss the ruling, but a spokesman said he is reviewing the decision and will consider possible responses. Ney’s office did not return phone calls.

The ruling also has implications for Regula’s efforts to block the proposed Indian Run Landfill, which Municipal Solid Waste Services in Akron is seeking to build northwest of Waynesburg.

For the past two years, Regula has used a similar mechanism to prevent the corps from reviewing the Indian Run proposal.

Robert G. Konstand, president of Municipal Solid Waste Services, said the ruling might allow his landfill to go forward.

“It could — I’m not going to say,” said Konstand, who had not yet read the decision. “I will say that, however the opinion impacts the Norton landfill, it should be the same effect as to our landfill. Both of those riders were identical.”

Landfill opponents were disappointed.

“I can’t say I’m totally surprised,” said Freida Schott, president of Tri-County Protect Our Water Coalition, an opponent of Ridge. “We knew that this was an unprecedented move (the rider) and this could happen.”

Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula, who sits on the board of the Stark-Tuscarawas-Wayne Joint Solid Waste Management District, said he would talk with his father, Rep. Regula, about how to respond.

“We’re very disappointed, there’s no question about it, because we do not feel that there’s any need for any more expansions or siting of new landfills in this area,” he said. “We have plenty of capacity for the district and we just don’t need any more.”

The waste district opposes the landfill, as does the city of Canton and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, a local conservation agency.