VOL. 133 | NO. 17 | Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Commission Adds County Landfill Moratorium to City Ban
By Bill Dries
Shelby County commissioners approved a six month moratorium Monday, Jan. 22, on any new construction landfills in unincorporated Shelby County. The resolution is the companion to a Memphis City Council resolution passed earlier this month that imposed a six-month moratorium on such landfills within the city of Memphis.
During the moratorium, both bodies will review where the existing landfills for construction debris are and what land is zoned for such landfills “by right” or without any approval by any local body required.
The moratorium is a reaction to a proposed expansion of a Memphis Wrecking Co. landfill in Frayser that the council voted down unanimously in December after more than a year of delays as the company tried to build community support and find seven votes on the council.
Instead, the plan continued to encounter vocal opposition in Frayser. That opposition spread when the company began looking at alternative sites including one in Hickory Hill on land zoned heavy industrial that the company could use without any approval.
That’s what the company told area residents late last year.
“They pretty much said they were coming to our community to put in a landfill whether we wanted it or not,” said Stacy Spencer, senior pastor of New Direction Christian Church at Monday’s commission meeting.
The reaction of Spencer and others to that idea is what prompted the move to a city-county moratorium.
“The landfills do not need to be where people are living in these communities,” commissioner Willie Brooks said.
Commissioner Mark Billingsley said he would support an even stronger ban on the landfills.
“The poor and people of color have had more and more hazardous waste put in their neighborhoods,” he said citing environmental studies. “Quite frankly, I think that is because people choose the path of least resistance. People prey on the poor.”
Commissioner George Chism lives next to a landfill that he has no problem with.
“There are right ways to do things and wrong ways to do things,” he said. “People create waste whether it’s building construction or sewage. And we’ve got to have a place to put it. But we’ve got to do it in a thoughtful way.”
County attorney Kathryn Pascover said the resolution is legal and is not a permanent barrier to new construction landfills.
“I think the process that will be undertaken to review the zoning code and make recommendations for amendments is the appropriate methodology,” she said. “This is merely a temporary moratorium, not at this point a prohibition.”
In other action Monday, the commission approved a resolution to hire attorney Ricky E. Wilkins to consult with the commission on changes to the county program for minority and locally owned small businesses to get more county government contracts.
The contract calls for spending up to $50,000 from the commission’s contingency fund for Wilkins’ advice on the changes.
“This is the cheapest most efficient route to take,” commissioner Van Turner said. “We‘ve got to make changes to make sure this program survives.”
The program sets percentages for contracts awarded to minority and locally owned businesses based on a disparity study that documented specific racial and locally owned business disparities in who county government does business with. Wilkins was the attorney for the firm that did the disparity study for the county.
Wilkins will review the amendments the commission is expected to make later and tell commissioners whether they are in line with the strict standards of the disparity study or not. If they are not, the changes could make the program vulnerable to legal challenges.
“I think a lot of the issues that have created some difficulty … are a matter of process,” said county chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy.
But Turner and other commissioners say the ordinance setting up the percentage goals the commission approved in December 2016 has proven to be lacking in specifics about items like whether a minority business or a locally owned business gets preference in competition for a contract.
Commissioner David Reaves joined commission Mark Billingsley in voting no on the measure that passed on 9-2 vote.
“I feel like we hire attorneys and we bring them on contract and then they never leave,” Reaves said.
“I’d be more than happy to support this if we got rid of Julian Bolton,” he added, referring to former county commissioner Julian Bolton who is the commission’s attorney.
The commission also delayed action Monday on a resolution backing state legislation permitting an elected utility board.
Commissioner Terry Roland wants the commission to back such legislation in Nashville for an elected board that would govern the county’s move into a sewer system.
State law currently requires a utility board appointed by the county mayor and confirmed by the commission.
“If they do a utility district then the mayor gets to pick,” said Roland, who is running for county mayor. “I’m not for that folks. I’m for the people being able to decide on their representation.”
Roland said the legislation would not affect the Memphis Light Gas and Water Division board. It is a reaction to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s August order barring any connections to the city’s sewer system by developments outside the city limits.
Roland also cited the coming de-annexation process by the city of several areas of the city that would become part of the unincorporated county if approved by the Memphis City Council.
“There is a huge chance that a large portion of Memphis will be de-annexed this year. … It’s going to give us folks a lot more area to oversee,” Roland said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be upon us to have to make sure that these services work. I would rather have a board that we oversee that’s elected by the people, rather than have a board that one man picks on down the road.”
Roland agreed to a delay in voting on the resolution for a fuller discussion in Jan. 31 committee sessions of the possible legislation the commission would be endorsing.