More than 250 hear testimony opposing Oakville trash-transfer station

No representatives of Weber speak at DNR public hearing

By BURKE WASSON

More than 250 people heard testimony last week that Fred Weber Inc.’s application to construct a trash-transfer station near a residential area of New Baumgartner Road in Oakville should be denied.

The public hearing was scheduled as part of the review process for the Department of Natural Resources, which must decide whether to issue a permit to Weber to construct the station. Weber has attempted to construct the facility since 2003, when the County Council denied its construction with a unanimous vote.

But last fall, Weber gained two victories in favor of the station when County Counselor Pat Redington settled a lawsuit with Weber attorneys to allow the station’s construction.

Redington has said she believed she was acting in the county’s best interests to reach a settlement because Weber’s attorneys were requesting attorneys’ fees and civil-rights damages from the county that Redington quantified as “millions” of dollars.

Additionally, St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Ann Crancer ruled Oct. 19 that the trash-transfer station could be built at 5409 New Baumgartner Road.

The proposed Oakville transfer station was one of three such facilities that Weber 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.

After Weber petitioned for the station, the County Council adopted 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.

But the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled the ordinance invalid be-cause the county did not have a public hearing nor receive a recommendation from the Planning Commission before amending its zoning ordinances.

The appellate court also ruled that public health was not the motivating factor behind the ordinance; public angst over Weber’s proposed transfer stations was the motivator.

Last week, several expert witnesses and local elected officials testified to DNR representatives that the department should deny Weber’s permit largely because of potential public-health hazards, the county’s lack of due process in allowing the facility’s construction and because property values near the proposed station likely would drop.

No representatives from Fred Weber Inc. spoke at the April 10 hearing at Oakville Senior High School.

Sixth District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, reiterated that he has opposed the station since it was proposed in 2003 and urged DNR officials to deny the permit like the County Council previously did.

“Because of the effect this trash-transfer station will have on the air-quality deterioration, water-quality implications and the flooding of New Baumgartner (Road), this proposed trash-transfer station should not be issued a permit,” Campisi said. “The location of this facility near a church, other businesses and a residential area are more than sufficient reasons for the Department of Natural Resources to deny a permit.

“Do what is right and deny this permit just as the St. Louis County Council did in 2003. It is the right thing to do.”

A DNR news release states, “The proposed transfer station will be used to receive non-hazardous solid municipal waste and will transfer the waste from small trucks onto larger vehicles that would transfer the waste to a permitted facility.”

Daniel McKeel, a retired professor at the Washington University School of Medicine, testified last week that the station would pose a serious threat to public health and should be denied for that reason alone.

“The (New) Baumgartner Road location is a very poor choice for a trash-transfer, 24-hour-a-day operation because of some very unique geographics and poorly designed access characteristics … Health will likely be adversely affected by the ignitable and potentially explosive materials in the hot-load zone and the concept of a waste area … The proposed trash-transfer station is an environmental and human-health nightmare just waiting to happen.

“The constrictive single-entry path, the lack of a rear entry, the amphitheater effect from the amplified noise and air pollution … they all contribute to this … The subsequent decision to grant this permit under the current designs should be reversed on public-health endangerment terms alone.”

Additionally, Ken Warren, a professor of political science at St. Louis University, testified that because Redington undermined the County Council by making a “behind-the-scenes” settlement with Weber attorneys, residents were denied due process and the permit should be reconsidered by the County Council.

“I think the procedural process was violated significantly in the granting of the current permits and licensing for this facility,” Warren said. “… What is possibly most disturbing is that the county attorney decided to sign a settlement statement with Weber Inc. on Oct. 25, 2007, for some reason without consulting her client — the St. Louis County Council. In the agreement, she signed away any rights of the council to ever appeal the Circuit Court’s decision. Understand that the county attorney is not an elected official and therefore not in a democratic position. She is supposed to serve the County Council, consisting of democratic representatives of the people of St. Louis County.

“Democracy is not well served by a non-elected attorney making a ‘behind-the-scenes’ decision for a democratic body that is elected to speak for the people. Even if the County Council decided to rule in favor of Weber Inc., it should have been given the opportunity for public input to vote thumbs up or thumbs down on the permit application. And certainly, the council should have been notified of her decision so the public body could decide what course to take.

“Instead, the county attorney did not consult her client on such an important public-policy matter, but decided to make a deal with Weber Inc. that included the council’s right to appeal, thus closing the doors on the people’s right to be heard on a very critical public-policy decision. What’s more is even after she made the decision, she did not notify her client or the media that she had made this public-policy decision on her own …

“Because procedural due process was not afforded to the County Council nor to the people of St. Louis County under the basis of democratic, open-government principles, I urge the Department of Natural Resources to seriously weigh in on this matter and call for reconsideration by the County Council.”

Questions and comments regarding the proposed transfer station or the department’s role in regulating solid-waste-processing facilities may be sent to the Department of Natural Resources, Solid Waste Management Program, P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, Mo. 65102-0176.

Comments also can be made by calling Charlene Fitch at (800) 361-4827 or (573) 751-5401 or sending a fax to (573) 526-3902. The department will accept written comments until 5 p.m. on April 30.