MORGANTOWN – Butler Fiscal Court hosted nearly 100 people at a special meeting Tuesday regarding the proposed Owl’s Head landfill.
The hourlong informational session at the Butler County Extension Office allowed fiscal court to update residents on the progress of the potential residual landfill in the county.
Butler County Judge-Executive Tim Flener said any entity proposing to construct a residual landfill must submit a permit application to the state Department for Environmental Protection.
Owl’s Head Alloys, an aluminum recycler in Bowling Green, spent $167,500 to purchase a 70.206-acre tract near Ky. 70 from the city of Bowling Green on Feb. 22. According to a 2008 municipal order, Owl’s Head wanted the land to store its waste aluminum, salts, oxides and dust.
Flener then revealed there has been no permit application filed for a residual landfill in Butler County as of Tuesday. Owl’s Head will likely file for a residual landfill permit soon, but obtaining that permit won’t be a seamless process. The three-phased application will allow concerned citizens to make their voices heard at the state level, Flener said.
“It comes down to the permitting process at this point,” Flener told the audience. “In each one of these permit stages, there are options. There is times there for you as a county to write letters, to voice your opinion during this process and each one of these processes that you go through, I want you to know tonight that there’s certain things that you need to be asking about during each one of these processes.”
Flener detailed each of the areas citizens should address in their letters before doubling down on why it’s crucial for everyone to write in the first place – if the letters are well-written and well-researched, then the state will deem it necessary to have a public hearing in Butler County.
“The more people that we get on board and the more letters we get there, the more we’re going to be heard and the better opportunity we get to have a public hearing,” Flener said. “I know we can write all the letters we want to, but personally I feel until we get a public hearing here, then our voice is not going to be totally heard and it’s going to take those letters at the beginning to be able to get that public hearing.”
Flener said no timeline for the process will be available until Owl’s Head begins the permitting procedures.
“There’s 30 days on the first one, 60 days and 30 days for them to put it in to the state,” Flener said. “It’s purely speculation, but it would still be a year and a half to two years before the site would open up if everything went smoothly and went all the way through.”
Department for Environmental Protection representatives Shannon Powers, Deborah DeLong and Lynn True were expected to attend the meeting to address residents’ questions and concerns, but Flener said their superiors opted them out since the trio couldn’t have answered questions about a facility that doesn’t exist.
Flener fielded questions mostly on his own, although magistrates helped him out on a few occasions. The most popular issue was zoning laws and whether the county could use them to fight the landfill.
“Zoning is an option we’re looking at,” Flener said. “The benefit would be containing them to one area of the county, but that’s the only effect we’d have over this type of landfill. If we had planned any zoning in our county, that would be our only option – we couldn’t keep them from coming here, but we could restrict where they put the landfill.”
Morgantown resident Ross McFadyen asked if there was any time government regulations increased freedoms and liberties for everyday citizens. When McFadyen was met with hushed murmurs, he cautioned against zoning being used to take away people’s freedom.
“I don’t like it either,” McFadyen said. “But at some point, who uses aluminum foil? Or uses aluminum cans? Your cars have lots of aluminum in them. I’m not a proponent of it, I’m just saying there is that, so it’s a little hypocritical to say, ‘I don’t want it in my backyard,’ and then use cans, foil and all this other stuff. I’m for the constitution and freedom and I’m looking at it from that view, too.”
Woodbury City Council member Frank House – who’s been raising awareness about the landfill by posting to a public Facebook group called “You know you’re from Morgantown, Kentucky if you remember ...” – spoke up on several occasions. House twice received a round of applause for his comments and explanations of various issues.
Butler County Magistrate Kevin Phelps informed House that zoning wouldn’t affect Owl’s Head’s plans because the recycler was “grandfathered in” by buying the property with the intent of putting a landfill on it. Satisfied with that answer and others, House later voiced his support of the fiscal court.
“What I would like to suggest to everybody is we get behind these guys because these are solid guys here and they’re trying to do the right thing and we get behind these folks right here and we help ’em and we push ’em and we prod ’em and let them know what we want,” House told onlookers. “If it comes down to the permitting process – you folks are mad, you folks are upset – I want you to stay mad and upset so you’ll write these letters that Judge Flener is asking you to write and maybe we can get this thing halted.”
Morgantown City Council member Sterling White also chimed in, pledging his commitment to keeping the Owl’s Head landfill at bay and asking fiscal court to continue doing its part to keep the landfill out of Butler County.
“I’m 100 percent committed – any efforts that we can do, any avenues, leaving no stone unturned to fight this and I feel very strongly we don’t need it. If they don’t want it in Colorado, New Jersey and Alabama, we don’t need it here and I just encourage you guys to fight it every turn of the way.”
Flener promised to keep his constituents updated on the permitting process and help facilitate letter-sending if needed. The judge-executive also made it clear that although county government has no authority whatsoever regarding residual waste landfills, fiscal court will still work with other counties and state legislators to give local government more input in the future.
State Rep. Steve Sheldon, R-Bowling Green, received a round of applause after he said he and his family have a vested interest in the “life” and the “environment” that would be potentially be affected by a residual landfill.
“You’re looking at a parent of a child with an autoimmune disease from heavy metal toxicity,” Sheldon said. “So, to think that I’m not real concerned about this like you all are would be an understatement – he’s an attorney that has lost his cognitive thinking because of this autoimmune disease and it’s been a big, trying time, so yeah, I’m emotional about it. But legislatively, we’ll work with you all the best we can at the state level, OK?”
House said afterward that the meeting went “very well” and gave citizens “really good information” for planning their next moves.
“Now, there’s some other options that are in play that fiscal court really doesn’t need to be involved in and we’re working on some other things and other avenues to pursue this and we’re going to,” House told the Daily News after the meeting. “I see the next step as we’re going to keep pursuing some alternative opportunities here and we’re going to gird our loins – if the permitting process begins, we’re going to be ready.”
Flener also said the educational session was “real informative” in helping residents know what’s ahead.
“From the voices that I heard tonight, they’re going to get behind us and help us on this issue,” Flener told the Daily News. “We’re all one team here, the way I look at it. It’s not me and the fiscal court, it’s everybody in the county working together to get things done for the benefit of the county.”