January 11, 2012 - By Joe St. Henry
It has been four months since the Orion Township Board of Trustees decided to pursue a second legal opinion on the community's ability to fight the Eagle Valley landfill expansion.
With the board in closed executive sessions recently to review and discuss confidential legal communications, some restless community members are hoping it is finally making progress in securing the second opinion.
"We haven't heard anything lately and its frustrating," said township resident and landfill opponent Joe Geraci. "When you don't hear anything, you think the worst."
People who have followed the Eagle Valley landfill expansion controversy know that Geraci arguably is Lake Orion's most informed citizen on the issue.
He has reams of paperwork dating back two decades regarding the landfill, in addition to an elaborate timeline of events that led to the township board's decision last April to approve the 20-year expansion and a 25-foot increase in the landfill's height.
Geraci and his fellow landfill opponents contend the township board was misinformed by its attorney and the former township supervisor in an effort to secure approval for the expansion.
Last August, public outcry prompted the board to pass a motion to have its lawyer rescind their approval but, concerned with the legal ramifications and liability the township may face, a week later it decided to secure the second opinion.
Lawyers from Johnson Rosati, the Farmington Hills-based firm selected by the township board and approved by its insurance company to provide the second opinion, met with Geraci last fall to review his meticulous records and discuss the situation. He said he has not heard a word from them or the township since.
Developments over the past week, however, seem to indicate progress.
According to Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel, the board has approved the landfill committee - made up of trustees Mark Crane, Neal Porter and her - to meet with the second law firm to discuss its legal opinion on the situation, the township's options and set up a meeting with officials from Waste Management, owner of Eagle Valley.
Van Tassel said the law firm recommended she say nothing else about the case at this time. Porter collaborated this, but said "everyone is frustrated" with the slow pace of progress in securing the second opinion. He did note that the lead attorney suffered a death in her famly plus surgery last fall, leading to the delay.
"We carefully selected (Johnson Rosati), so we decided to not switch firms due to the delay," Porter said, noting that a date to meet with the firm regarding the second opinion has not been set, but he expects significant progress to be made over the next month.
Calls by The Review to the lead attorney on the case at Johnson Rostai were not returned.
Waste Management spokesman Tom Horton said the company has filed a wetlands permit application with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as part of the expansion process.
DEQ engineer Greg Morrow added that Waste Management also submitted a hydrogeologic investigation work plan in August. This identifies proposed locations on the expansion property for soil borings and groundwater monitoring wells.
Morrow also said Waste Management has not yet submitted a construction permit application for the expansion.
In another development, Van Tassel said a request-for-proposal document to solict bids for an environmental study on the current state of the landfill and impact of its expansion has been prepared and will be distributed within days.
The board plans to select a firm to conduct the study by the end of January. The last such study was conducted in 1994.
"There are some people in the community that think we are dragging our feet on this and trying to make their concerns just go away," Porter said, referring to both the second legal opinion and environmental study. "That is not the case."
Porter said the board does not think it has lost any time in preparing for the DEQ's required public hearing on the landfill expansion, scheduled to take place sometime this spring.
"The DEQ is in charge of the meeting," he said. "We'll be sitting in the audience like everyone else and listening."
Porter did promise the environmental consultant that produces the report will be on-hand at the hearing to provide his or her views on the expansion and answer any questions.
With few additional facts available, Geraci did take solace in the fact that it appears Orion Township is not counting on extra funding from Eagle Valley to subsidize the 2012 budget shortfall - at least in public.
"I really hope this isn't politics as usual, with discussions taking place behind-the-scene," he said.