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Judge throws out Chesterfield county landfill company's lawsuit seeking quarry expansion

Judge throws out Chesterfield county landfill company's lawsuit seeking quarry expansion

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Shoosmith Brothers landfill activity with quarry in background March 9, 2010.

A Chesterfield County judge tossed a landfill operator’s lawsuit against the county, finding that the Board of Supervisors acted within its powers in rejecting the company’s expansion plans.

Chesterfield Circuit Court Judge David Johnson’s ruling dismisses a lawsuit that Shoosmith Brothers Inc. filed last year that sought to clear the way for the company to expand into a granite quarry at the company’s 320-acre site near Iron Bridge Road and Lewis Road.

Fletcher Kelly, the landfill company’s vice president, said Thursday that the company is appealing the judge’s Nov. 13 ruling, a decision made amid a long-running legal battle over whether the company can store waste in the quarry.

The company, which has operated the landfill since 1976, filed suit last year in connection with the supervisors’ unanimous July 2018 vote denying the company’s application to store municipal waste in the quarry. Supervisors cited concerns about potential impacts on groundwater and possible fires at the quarry site in voting down the company’s plan, which has generated community opposition for decades.

In legal papers, Shoosmith argued the board overstepped its authority and said the board’s decision ran afoul of state law governing landfill operations. The company also said last year’s denial ran afoul of previous county approvals it had received for the quarry plan. The company said it has also received a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality to use the quarry site to store waste.

Shoosmith attorneys could not be reached for comment this week.

The Board of Supervisors in 1997 approved a conditional-use permit for Shoosmith’s plans to expand into the landfill, which came with conditions. Among those were that the company had to wait at least 10 years before moving forward with the quarry site.

Those conditions also included a stipulation agreed to by Shoosmith that the quarry site was subject to additional county approvals before it could proceed with the quarry expansion, Johnson wrote in his decision rejecting the company’s arguments.

“Shoosmith now moves this court to rule that the process to which it voluntarily submitted is a process to which it cannot be made to submit and that the county’s acceptance of the proffer is exempted by state law,” Johnson wrote in an October letter laying out his rationale for dismissing the company’s litigation. “The court finds no basis in law or fact to support this position.”

Johnson’s decision capped a legal battle that the company has waged off and on for several years to clear the way for its landfill expansion.

The company applied to the county in 2015 to use the quarry, but yanked its plans amid public opposition before supervisors could vote. Shoosmith filed a lawsuit in 2016 saying that the company had already met all the necessary requirements to use the quarry site and did not need additional approvals. Circuit Judge William Shelton dismissed that case, saying the company had to exhaust all its administrative remedies with the county before the court could weigh in.

Shoosmith then asked the Board of Zoning Appeals if it still needed additional county approval for its quarry plans, and that panel said the landfill company did, setting up a 2017 lawsuit where Shoosmith challenged the zoning board’s decision in Chesterfield Circuit Court. Johnson upheld the zoning panel decision, finding that the company needed to go back for one more county approval before moving ahead with its plans for the quarry, a decision that set up the July 2018 supervisors vote against the plan.

While weighing a decision, the county relied on a report from Golder Associates Inc., a consultant that Chesterfield officials retained to review the quarry plans. That consultant’s report cited concerns about potential groundwater contamination from the site reaching the Swift Creek Reservoir, and it also laid out scenarios that the consultant said could lead to fires and explosions from landfill gas. The consultant said Shoosmith’s plans offered “significant risks” to public health and safety.

Shoosmith’s lawyers wrote in court papers that Golder’s 2018 report was based on unreliable and “extreme hypotheticals.” The company also said Golder’s 2018 report represented a reversal from another report the consultant did in 2015 that found that landfill operations in the quarry could be designed and operated in a way that would not pose a substantial risk to public health or the environment, provided the list of conditions were met.

County officials explained in court papers that the consultant’s later report was based on a greater understanding of risks associated with the type of “elevated temperature landfills” that the consultant said the quarry site could become. Shoosmith said it was being held up to an impossible standard for its operations at the quarry site, a high bar that it said could not be reached by any landfill.

Steve Elswick, the vice chair of the Board of Supervisors, said Thursday that the board welcomed the judge’s decision.

“I was concerned about the long-term health, safety and environmental issues for our citizens and for our county,” Elswick said.

Kelly, the landfill company’s vice president, declined to comment on the specifics of the case or the judge’s ruling.

“We have a good relationship with the county, the operations people,” he said. “We do this every day and want to continue.”

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