Published 11:00 pm Friday, April 12, 2013

3-9 LANDFILL pic_web

Brundidge won’t back down in landfill struggle

Brundidge officials say the city’s landfill trouble stinks – but they aren’t going to back down when it comes to protecting the city and the environment.

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The current issues began back on June 20, 2012 when TransLoad America, Inc. filed for bankruptcy, immediately closing the Brundidge Landfill.

Since then, businesses in Pike County and the City of Brundidge have had to send local waste to a landfill in Coffee County – a connection that makes the continuing landfill woes even more foul smelling for Brundidge.

The Coffee County Commission voted 5-1 on Oct. 17, 2012 to spend up to $6 million to purchase the Brundidge Landfill by backing an entity called Brundidge Acquisitions, LLC. Coffee County tried to purchase the landfill earlier for $4 million, but TransLoad America filed for bankruptcy before the deal was set.

“We continue to believe that Alabama law will ultimately preclude the Coffee County Commission from acquiring the landfill for economic development in Coffee County at the expense of the citizens, businesses and industries of Pike County,” said Brundidge City Manager Britt Thomas. “The Coffee County Commission website boasts that, in 2007 at current flow rates, the landfill has 100 years of capacity left. So where is the economic development need?”

Coffee County Administrator Rod Morgan didn’t return recent calls from The Messenger, but back in October he said the capacity that would be provided by the landfill in Brundidge would help Coffee County appear more attractive in terms of economic development. Morgan wouldn’t elaborate on whether Coffee County planned to shut the landfill down until a later time, or truck in waste from other areas.

Although Coffee County has not officially stated that the Brundidge Landfill would remain closed under their control, Brundidge Mayor Jimmy Ramage suspects that will be the case because the Coffee County Landfill still has a 100-year life.

“Normally, when a government entity works with a private company, it does so as a conduit and the company will pay the money back,” Ramage explained. “If Brundidge Acquisitions is not going to operate the Brundidge Landfill, then how will they have the money to pay back the taxpayers of Coffee County their $4 to $6 million.”

Other entities had looked into purchasing the landfill, including Brundidge, but it was decided the space was not worth more than $1 million.

Whatever the plans Coffee County has, or the reasons they want the landfill, those thoughts have not been communicated to Brundidge officials, adding to the frustration of the situation.

Thomas said the Coffee County Commission voted to back the purchase of the landfill after Brundidge requested meetings with them on several occasions. Now, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has transferred a permit to operate the landfill to Brundidge Acquisitions without consulting with Brundidge. The transfer happened on March 22, just four days after the request, according to Thomas.

“ADEM transferred the permit despite having been made aware that, by doing so, the bankruptcy court was going to essentially void the host government agreement which would leave our community without the protections the host agreement provides,” Thomas said. “We are very dismayed that ADEM approved the transfer and was not willing to allow the ongoing declaratory judgment action in Pike County, which will eventually resolve the legality of the proposed acquisition, to proceed.”

On April 19, the City of Brundidge will appear at the ADEM Commission meeting where Thomas said the city will ask for a stay of 30-60 days of the permit until all the city’s legal questions can be answered. Those include whether or not one government can operate within another city without the host city’s permission.

There’s also question as to whether or not the city has the opportunity to be part of a host government agreement.

“We’ve always had a host agreement,” Ramage said. “We understood when TransLoad America went into bankruptcy, our host agreement would be canceled. ADEM transferred the permit without putting a new host agreement into effect. We’ve got to have that to protect the city.”

The City of Brundidge is also fighting a back-and-forth legal battle in the Pike County Circuit Court system. The city filed suit in January to prevent the sale of the landfill by TransLoad America to Brundidge Acquisitions LLC. The move was made after legal efforts to block the sale through the bankruptcy court in New Jersey failed. The Coffee County Commission filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on March 7, alleging the City of Brundidge Solid Waste Disposal Authority and the City of Brundidge failed to file a notice of claim with the Coffee County Commission before beginning action.

Brundidge officials filed a counter-claim in mid-March.

According to the Pike County Clerk of Courts, there is no court date set for the local action.

Also in court in Pike County, Brundidge has filed a suit to have Southeast Alabama Solid Waste Disposal Authority, of which Coffee County is a member, cease collecting solid waste within the City of Brundidge and taking it to the Coffee County Landfill because the Authority does not have permission to do business within the city limits.

In bankruptcy court, the trustee for Transload America has until May 1 to complete the transfer of the landfill to Brundidge Acquisitions LLC for a sum of $4 million. The court approved Brundidge Acquisition’s offer of that amount, contingent upon there being no other offers for the landfill that were less than $250,000 more, Thomas said. According to information from the United States Bankruptcy Court District of New Jersey, where TransLoad America was located, the case status is “awaiting trustee’s report.”

Financially, keeping the landfill closed in Brundidge will be a blow to the city. In the last 10 years, the landfill put an average of $200,000 into the city’s general fund, according to Ramage.

“That’s a good portion of our sales tax and that’s money that our citizens didn’t have to pay, giving us money to spend of our senior program and police protection,” Ramage said. “It all went into the general fund to support normal city functions such as keeping the garbage collection fee down. We have one of the lowest garbage collection fees around. We pick up limbs and trash at no extra cost. The landfill provided with city with extra money. If you would ask Troy they would tell you that they have been affected, too.”

The City of Troy has publicly backed Brundidge’s efforts to stop the sale of the landfill to Brundidge Acquisitions and Coffee County.

Thomas said that the City of Brundidge will continue to fight Coffee County’s purchase in court, which could lead to a year or more of litigation.