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Perry residents loudly object to landfill idea

UNIONTOWN – Perry County residents’ anger over a proposed landfill was voiced in no uncertain terms at a public hearing held by the Perry County Commission Wednesday night.

“What you’re proposing is absolutely against the best interests of this county,” said Uniontown resident Mary Schaeffer, addressing the Commission. “We are your bosses, we pay your salary, and we deserve accountability.”

The hearing, which was held in the gymnasium of Robert C. Hatch High School in Uniontown, was intended for the Commission to receive public input on their proposed Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP), according to hearing moderator and Commission attorney Natasha Meadows. A SWMP is required to be filed by each county every ten years with the state government. The SWMP currently under consideration by the Commission has drawn intense fire in the community for including the proposed landfill, the site for which covers an area of “approximately 1,100 acres and is located approximately one-half miles southeast of Uniontown,” according to the SWMP document.

That’s far too large and too close by for the residents in attendance at the hearing Wednesday night. “I can’t chuck ’em like I used to, but not long ago I could have hit it with a rock,”said Uniontown resident Ruby Holmes of the proposed landfill site. “I do not want that in front of my door.”

The complaints listed by residents against the landfill were numerous, including its impact on attracting new residents, the increased rates of cancer allegedly faced by other communities near landfills, and the lack of need for such a facility by Perry County residents themselves. “We’ve got a plan now, a plan that’s worked for ten years without a landfill,” said Uniontown resident Robert Bamberg. “I’d like to see the County Commission do the right thing, and give us a plan with no wording about a landfill.”

That the landfill has been labeled a “regional” facility by the SWMP drew the ire of several residents, who do not want other states disposing of their garbage in Perry County. Clarence Smalley, who began by calling the SWMP a “wonderfully curious document,” took issue with the use of the word “viable” to describe the plans included in the SWMP. “‘Viable’ means ‘to help life grow,'” said Smalley. “But I think our life is better if we take garbage out of Perry County instead of asking everyone else to dump theirs here, too.”

The most outspoken resident at the hearing was Cynthia Maddox of Uniontown, who took the Commission to task for a passage in the SWMP that states “The developer [of the landfill] may consider making restitution if the property values [of nearby land] are deemed to be impacted negatively.” “May consider!” Maddox said. “‘May’ means they don’t have to do anything, and ‘consider’ means all they have to do is think about it. Why doesn’t it say they ‘will’ make restitutions?”

Maddox also questioned the SWMP’s assertion that “the local governments of Perry County have provided the overall policy direction for the SWMP.” But according to Maddox, the January Uniontown City Council meeting revealed that the Council “was not familiar with any of the procedures or particulars outlined in the plan, other than telephone calls received soliciting waste collection information.”

The SWMP’s planned recycling policies also drew a number of complaints, as it incorporates no recycling action until a Commission resolution due in 2007, to be followed by a Recycling Task Force in 2009. The Commission’s refusal to issue comment, aside from a clarification from Commissioner Johnny Flowers of the hearing’s purpose and the announcement of a second hearing devoted to the landfill issue, drew increased derision from those in attendance as the hearing progressed. According to Meadows, all complaints would be addressed in a separate appendix to be added to the SWMP at a later date.

Despite the anger directed at the Commission’s proposals, Commissioner Albert Turner said the meeting was “productive.” “It gave some of the citizens a chance to voice their views, and it gave me an opportunity to know how people feel,” he said. While affirming his support for the Commission and the SWMP, Turner did not voice support for the landfill project. “I have not received any hard data. Right now we don’t have any information about the landfill. I won’t vote for anything without knowing what I’m voting for.” Turner also said he plans on receiving more input from the community. “I will certainly have a public hearing in my district, to let people come out and talk. There’s 12,000 people in Perry County and we had about 150 here tonight, so they don’t speak for everyone.”

Plans for more hearings will not sit well with residents like Schaeffer. “Up North they consider a landfill huge if it’s 100 acres,” she said, “and this is 1100 acres.”