Commission OKs zoning for landfill

Residents near a proposed site for a construction and demolition landfill at 55th South and Ridge Road said they were dejected by the Sedgwick County Commission's decision Wednesday to approve a zoning change and conditional-use permit.

But they're not giving up.

Gary Thome, a Clearwater resident who helped lead opposition to the request by Resource Recovery Management, said he and other landowners plan to attend future county and state public hearings about the landfill.

"I don't know how to express my disappointment," Thome said after the commission's meeting. "How many people do you have to get up there and say what they had to say?"

Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the request. Commissioner Tim Norton voted against it.

More than a dozen people spoke against the zoning and conditional-use permit request.

Only one person from the public spoke in favor of it: Bob Kaplan, a Wichita lawyer representing the applicant. Former county commissioners Ben Sciortino and Tom Winters attended the meeting and sat next to Kaplan.

Kaplan cautioned commissioners not to confuse their role. He stressed that they were voting only on a rezoning and conditional-use permit, not on a landfill.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment will consider the permit for a landfill, which also will need to fit into the county's overall plan for dealing with solid waste.

Kaplan told commissioners not to "act as regulators. We are not here seeking a permit for a C&D (landfill). We are asking you to grant consent to Resource Recovery Management to file an application to seek a permit for a C&D."

Planning staff approved

The Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Commission recently approved the rezoning and conditional-use permit, and planning staff recommended approval.

City and county planning director John Schlegel called the decision a "tough call."

Conditions include a height restriction of 80 feet and construction of an 8-foot fence around the landfill. The landfill could operate only during daytime, and someone would have to be present during all hours of operation, Schlegel said. Trucks delivering materials to the landfill would have to take paved roads to get there.

A detailed grading and drainage plan would be required, as would all pertinent permits from KDHE.

This is the second time a landfill has been proposed for the area. A similar application in 2008 was withdrawn.

There are two construction and demolition landfills in the county: one at Brooks Landfill and one owned by Cornejo & Sons on the south side of K-96 just west of West Street, Schlegel said.

Residents on Wednesday spoke out about groundwater pollution, aesthetics, drainage and flooding.

"That land has always had an issue with drainage," said Tim Lauer, who said his father owns adjacent land north of the proposed site.

He said 55th Street would suffer erosion and standing water would attract waterfowl, which could pose a risk for Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

Steve Hieger of Occidental Chemical Co. told commissioners that plant uses three wells near the site to supply drinking water for employees. The company is concerned about water contamination.

Carol Neugent, director of governmental services for Haysville, voiced a similar concern about city wells.

One of the most passionate presentations came from Crista Strong, a Clearwater resident, who wept when she gestured to her two children.

She took umbrage with a suggestion that the area already is polluted.

"That's a very cavalier attitude when you're talking about the safety of our children," Strong said. "To place a dump where my children play?"

Other sites?

Norton challenged Kaplan to name other sites his client considered for the landfill.

"You said 'this was better than any site we could find,' " Norton told Kaplan.

Kaplan said he was not involved in site location decisions.

The land is owned by John Dugan.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau said he believes that people "should be able to do what you want with their land" unless other people are harmed. He said he didn't think opponents had proven harm, and he said KDHE would regulate the landfill.

"There are worse places for a landfill," Ranzau said.

Dennis Degner, chief of the KDHE's solid-waste permit section, said Resource Recovery Management will need to submit a detailed permit application. The agency then will determine whether the application is complete, and "if complete and we feel there is going to be significant public concern, we would hold a public participation meeting."

KDHE would weigh public input and prepare a "technical detailed review" of the application, he said. If the application meets regulatory and statutory requirements, a draft permit will be issued.

The permit process typically takes four to six months from the time of application to a final decision by KDHE, Degner said.

Thome said he would keep working to change officials' minds about the landfill.

He said he thought it was interesting that no construction companies sent representatives to the meeting to speak about the need for another construction and demolition landfill.

"I hope a lightbulb will go on," he said.