County settlement paves way for Oakville trash-transfer station

Campisi to abide by ruling, but unhappy with decision

By BURKE WASSON

After years of opposition from south county residents and legal challenges by St. Louis County, County Counselor Pat Redington recently agreed to a settlement paving the way for the construction of a trash-transfer station in Oakville.

The county will not appeal a recent Circuit Court judge’s decision to allow the facility’s construction, Redington informed Oakville resident Tom Diehl in an e-mail sent Friday. Diehl, who currently serves as president of the Mehlville Board of Education, has been a vocal opponent of the trash-transfer station since it first was proposed by Fred Weber Inc. in 2003.

The County Counselor’s Office did not have any comment on the settlement before the Call’s press time.

Gary Feder, an attorney representing Fred Weber, said he would not comment on the decision without authorization from his client.

The site of the trash-transfer station, to be constructed on 4.43 acres at 5219 Baumgartner Road, was one of three such facilities that Fred Weber Inc. had been denied by the county, spurring legal challenges in 2004.

In 2005, the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the county used faulty logic in denying Weber’s request for the trash-transfer station.

During Weber’s petition for the station, the County Council instituted an ordinance prohibiting trash-transfer stations within 1,000 feet of churches, residences, schools, child-care centers, nursery schools or nursing homes. Weber’s site for the transfer station on Baumgartner Road is within 1,000 feet of Canaan Baptist Church, 5409 New Baumgartner Road.

But the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled the ordinance invalid because the county did not have a public hearing or receive a recommendation from the Planning Commission before amending its zoning ordinances.

Additionally, an amendment to the county’s waste-management code unanimously approved in December 2006 by the County Council repealed that 1,000-foot requirement from county code.

That same unanimous vote to amend the waste-management code also established the formation of trash districts in unincorporated areas.

In her recent ruling, Circuit Court Judge Barbara Ann Crancer wrote, “The county’s determination that the South Transfer Station would have a negative environmental impact was not supported by the evidence. Credible evidence presented during the hearing and in the record as a whole is that the South Transfer Station would not create an environmental detriment.”

Crancer’s ruling orders St. Louis County and its Department of Health to “expeditiously issue” a license to Weber to construct and operate the transfer station.

With the Circuit Court decision to allow the trash-transfer station now handed down, 6th District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, said he will abide by that ruling but remains unhappy with it.

Between the pending trash-transfer station and new trash districts to be implemented by September 2008 in which the County Council will hire unincorporated residents’ waste haulers for them, Campisi is “sad” for residents.

“I fight for south county and I do what I think is right for south county,” Campisi said. “Obviously … I can’t change a court’s decision. And while we have to abide by the court’s rulings, I’m still not happy about the decision. I’m sad that the people in Oakville have to go through what they’re about to go through — a trash-transfer station and the many trucks that are going to go up and down that road.

“And now it’s only going to get worse with the trash districting because the trash districting is going to allow trucks to shoot by that facility, I’m sure. We’ll just keep on fighting the fight. That’s all I can do.”

As for the county counselor, Redington wrote to Diehl that the county will not fight Crancer’s decision and will not pursue any further legal action to oppose the trash-transfer station.

“On Nov. 2, the trial judge granted Fred Weber’s motion for summary judgment as to Weber’s claim for administrative review of the County Council’s decision to deny a waste transfer-facility license for this address,” Redington wrote. “That is, the judge determined not to apply the ordinance requiring five-acre sites for waste-transfer facilities, which ordinance had been enacted only after the license application in this case had been filed. However, the judge ruled that the facility must be operated subject to conditions that were recommended by the departments of health, planning and highways.

“Based on the court’s decision, the parties have agreed to settle this lawsuit. The county will not appeal from the judgment, and Weber has agreed to drop its civil-rights claim and request for attorneys’ fees.”

Diehl, whose public opposition to the trash-transfer station resulted in Weber un-successfully suing him in 2004 for defamation and libel, said he is “disappointed, but not surprised” by Redington’s “acquiescence” to Crancer’s ruling.

“There is no reason that the decision of the (county) health department and County Council to deny that permit could not have been upheld,” Diehl said. “There are numerous precedents in which Missouri courts have given local governments wide latitude and discretion in matters to restrict businesses affecting the general health and welfare of the citizens.

“But for some reason, the County Counselor’s Office never cites those precedents when the issue involves politically connected businesses or their former employees who want to trample on the people of south county.”

Weber sued Diehl in February 2004 for his association with fliers naming the company “trash terrorists.”

Diehl and hundreds of Oakville residents had opposed Weber’s efforts to construct the trash-transfer station in the company’s south quarry.

Calling the fliers factless, malicious name-calling, Weber sued Diehl for libel, slander, defamation and business conspiracy.

Besides seeking $5 million in punitive damages, the lawsuit sought at least $25,000 in actual damages. That suit was dismissed in March 2005 by the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals. Additionally, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear the case in June 2005.

A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union told a panel of Missouri legislators in July 2004 that Weber’s lawsuit against Tom Diehl was “a classic SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit.”

But attorneys representing Weber told that same panel that the lawsuit was not a SLAPP suit, but rather a legitimate defamation and libel lawsuit.