Benton County Solid-Waste District questions state law

Little Rock city directors have been considering filing a nuisance complaint against BFI Landfill over strong odors, namely an overwhelming smell of diesel coming from the landfill.
Little Rock city directors have been considering filing a nuisance complaint against BFI Landfill over strong odors, namely an overwhelming smell of diesel coming from the landfill.

BENTONVILLE -- A disagreement over the division of solid-waste fees prompted Benton County officials to ask that part of state law be declared unconstitutional.

The Benton County Regional Solid Waste Management District filed a lawsuit seeking to have agreements between solid-waste districts declared unconstitutional. The suit names the Boston Mountain Solid Waste District as the defendant.

Waste management

Under Act 1376 of 2001, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is charged with developing a new comprehensive statewide solid waste management plan every 10 years and establishing minimum requirements for the development of new plans by the state’s 18 regional solid-waste management boards. The plan anticipates needs and addresses ways to reduce landfill disposal and provide appropriate solid waste management service to all Arkansas residents.

Source: Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality

The Benton County district wants the Boston Mountain district blocked from collecting part of the fee levied on waste generated in Benton County and disposed of in the Eco-Vista landfill near Tontitown in Washington County. The Boston Mountain district covers Washington and Madison counties.

Wendy Cravens, director of the Benton County district, said the aim of the lawsuit is to clarify the law. Cravens said a district with a landfill like Boston Mountain can receive fees paid by residents of another district without providing any service to those people.

"We're not actually trying to sue Boston Mountain," Cravens said. "We're simply trying to clarify the law. We don't believe the law as written is constitutional."

Robyn Reed, director of the Boston Mountain district, sees the situation differently. Reed said the Boston Mountain district is trying to manage a resource -- the landfill -- that is limited. Reed said the Boston Mountain district views the landfill somewhat like a city might a municipal wastewater treatment plant.

"If a city has a wastewater treatment plant and someone else wants to use it, there's going to be an additional fee," she said.

The Boston Mountain District does not pay fees directly to the landfill, which is owned and operated by Waste Management Inc.

The two districts have clashed over fees in the past, according to the lawsuit. An agreement between the two districts set a fee of $1.50 per ton of solid waste generated in each district. According to that 2011 agreement, each district kept the entire amount of the fee for waste generated within its district.

The Boston Mountain district's board approved a resolution on May 9, 2013, declaring the 2011 agreement void and withdrawing from the agreement. The Benton County district filed a lawsuit for breach of contract and was successful in obtaining a court order requiring the Boston Mountain district to comply with the 2011 agreement until it expired May 1.

The Boston Mountain district notified the Benton County district Feb. 22 it would not be renewing the 2011 agreement and provided a new proposal, according to the lawsuit. The proposal would give the Boston Mountain district $1 of the fee for waste generated in Benton County and delivered to the landfill in Washington County. The remainder of the fee would go to the Benton County district.

The lawsuit claims the proposal will damage the Benton County district. It asks for the law allowing the division of fees to be declared unconstitutional and for an injunction to have the fees held in escrow until the lawsuit is decided.

Jackie Crabtree, chairman of the Benton County district's board of directors, said he thinks the dispute can be resolved, but not with the agreement proposed by Boston Mountain.

"They're wanting a larger portion than what we feel is necessary," Crabtree said. "There wasn't any discussion from them to us about this. It was pretty much 'Here's what we want.'"

Crabtree said the Benton County district filed the lawsuit to allow the district to continue offering services -- from recycling to waste disposal -- the money from the fee pays for. He said there should be room to compromise, but not if one district can unilaterally set the terms of an agreement.

"I think we'd pretty much be forced to do what they ask us to do if the state law is upheld." he said. "I agree there needs to be a fee, I just don't know what the fee needs to be. I totally agree we need to pay for our usage of the landfill. To me, that's not an issue. What their fair share is, that's what we're arguing about."

NW News on 05/10/2016