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Landfill expansion update

September 14, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry

Review Editor

Rather than make a hasty decision, the Orion Township Board last week decided to delay requesting a court motion to set aside the amended consent agreement on the expansion of the Eagle Valley landfill until it can obtain a second legal opinion on the situation.

Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel said the move effectively nullifies the board's Aug. 29 decision to have the township attorney, Daniel Kelly, immediately file a motion to rescind last spring's agreement that currently allows Waste Management, Inc., owner of Eagle Valley, to proceed. The 50-acre expansion would add up to another 30 years of life to the landfill.

"It's the general sentiment of the board to secure a second opinion," Van Tassel said, noting this is a prudent move. "A second legal opinion will lend clarity to the situation and provide us with direction moving forward."

Trustee John Steimel agreed. "I would like to hear a second opinion before the motion is filed," he said at the Sept. 7 meeting. "It would be nice to hear what (a second law firm) has to say."

The decision to delay a court motion also was prompted by the township law firm's concerns with adequately representing the township's interest in setting aside the amended consent agreement, Van Tassel said. She stressed the firm insists it acted in good faith and provided fair representation of the facts of the situation last spring.

In a letter provided to the board, attorney Kelly said such a motion to rescind should be filed by the law firm that provides the second opinion, if warranted. Giarmarco, Mullins & Horton P.C. will continue to advise the township on other matters, Van Tassel said.

At issue is the enforceability of aand Waste Management requiring township approval of any expansion plans.

During last Wednesday's special board meeting, the supervisor presented several law firms with environmental expertise to the board, some of which are headquartered in southeast Michigan. Van Tassel said additional details on the firms are being provided to the committee formed in 2010 to address the landfill expansion.

Van Tassel said the board is moving in a timely matter and should complete the selection of the law firm to provide a second opinion within a month or two.

At the Sept. 7 meeting, Steimel questioned whether the formal bidding process should be followed, considering legal representation would undoubtedly cost more than $20,000. Treasurer Alice Young agreed, but said "it would slow down the process too much."

Whichever firm is selected to provide a second opinion, landfill opponent Mary Ann Ryan has concerns. "I'm worried about what kind of attorney will be hired and what their particular expertise will be," she said "We are out of the loop - that decision is left to the Trustees.  I am praying that God gives them wisdom."

Waste Management informed the township immediately after the Aug. 29 board meeting that it is moving forward with its plans to expand the landfill, Kelly said. The letter sent also said the waste company would seek "recovery" for any delays or expenses that occur as a result of township actions to halt the expansion, he said.

"It was no surprise we were contacted by Waste Management," the attorney said. "If the proceedings cause any damages, (Waste Management) said they will seek to have the township pay for them."

At the special board meeting, Van Tassel said the township has liability coverage of $15 million after $75,000 deductible, which would come from the township's reserve funds, if necessary.

The township board also is assembling a list of environmental consulting firms with specific experience in landfills to conduct a new study on the landfill. The last such study was conducted in 1997.

Van Tassel said she expects the board will make its selection of the consulting firm within the next couple of months, as well.

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