Did state officials and a waste company ramrod through a controversial and possibly damaging landfill over the objections of citizens? That's the issue a judge will hear in Davidson County Chancery Court Thursday.
A group of residents in Camden, Tenn., located about 90 minutes west of Nashville in Benton County, filed suit in December 2011 over a landfill operating 300 yards from their homes. Citing as defendants Robert Martineau, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and the landfill's operator, Environmental Waste Solutions, they charge that the landfill opened in defiance of a little-known law designed to protect homeowners and communities against just such an intrusion.
In 1989, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted a proposal put forward by then-state Rep. Doug Jackson. The act, now known as the Jackson Law, permits local governments to adopt provisions that entitle citizens to public notice, and a public hearing, about a proposed landfill. It also requires approval by local government.
But Camden residents and city officials have spent the last several years protesting a commercial landfill that they say was built, expanded, and approved by the state in violation of the Jackson Law. Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy is scheduled to preside over a final hearing in the case on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 1:30 p.m.
An attorney for the residents declined to comment on the pending litigation, as did TDEC. EWS did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Earlier this month, Benton County and the city of Camden were allowed to intervene in the case. They are now parties in the suit as well. They claim that proper procedural steps were not taken with regard to the approval and expansion of the landfill.
According to documents filed by the plaintiffs, both the city of Camden and Benton County adopted the Jackson Law in 1993. The plaintiffs assert that since that time, neither the city nor the county has taken the steps required to satisfy the law. Therefore, they claim, TDEC did not have the authority to act on the site — whether in 2004, when the landfill initially expanded, or in 2011, when the agency approved modifications to its expansion permit.
TDEC disagrees. The agency cites letters from the county and city in 2004 that say an expansion was approved. The plaintiffs counter that the expansion approval letter sent to TDEC by the city of Camden made no mention of the Jackson Law, and that state officials had no way (and did nothing) to verify that the law had been followed. TDEC has argued that it is not the agency's duty to determine whether local governments complied.
But there's more at stake than arcane procedural details. For more than two years, as recently as May 2012, residents near the landfill have complained of decreasing property values. They also worry that the facility has caused illness in people and pets living nearby.
Slapped by TDEC with a $10,000 penalty last year, EWS has taken steps to mask the overwhelming odor of ammonia that once permeated the surrounding area. But health concerns remain.
A ruling may settle, for now, the landfill's legal status. But in Camden, it may take longer to clear the air.