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Logic rarely rules when the subject is landfills Logic rarely rules when the subject is landfills

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH - Of the Editorial Board
Date: 07/25/98 22:00

If justice and common sense prevail, the Southeast Landfill in Kansas City is going to close as scheduled by April of 1999.

Here's how that will happen.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment will hold a hearing on Tuesday regarding a request by Laidlaw Waste Systems Inc. to keep the dump open up to five more years.

The BZA's members are Theresa Otto, Charlene Luster, W. Aaron Strawn, Marilyn Shapiro and John Hess, along with alternates Harry C. Edwards and Dee Hamilton.

The City Council set up the quasi-judicial, little-known but powerful board in 1923 with passage of Ordinance No. 45608 in 1923. According to that measure, the BZA essentially can modify zoning rules as long as "the public health, safety, comfort, convenience, prosperity and general welfare may ... be secured ... ."

This week, the Board of Zoning Adjustment will hear testimony from neighbors of the Southeast Landfill, which is at 83rd and Indiana. They are united in opposing a continuation of the irritating sights, smells and sounds of the dump.

Residents of the NOBLE, Marlborough East, Gregory Ridge and East Meyer neighborhoods will note that the BZA in 1995 agreed to let Laidlaw operate the dump only for an extra 39 months, past a scheduled closing date of Jan. 1, 1996.

Laidlaw now wants to break the promise that it would shut down in early 1999. It wants to obtain a special permit from the BZA so the company can reap millions of extra dollars in fees from trash haulers over the next five years.

The BZA's decision would seem obvious: It should not extend the landfill's life.

But we're talking about a dump here. And logic goes out the window for far too many people when dumps in the Kansas City area are discussed.

City Council members last week ducked for cover when colleague Ron Finley's resolution came before them. The resolution would have put them on record as opposing an expanded landfill.

Ed Ford, Ken Bacchus, Kelvin Simmons, Mary Williams-Neal and Jim Glover all said they didn't want to pass the resolution. They said they feared it might "politicize" the BZA process and give Laidlaw a reason to appeal the board's decision to the Jackson County Circuit Court.

These are nonsensical arguments.

Ford, Bacchus, Simmons, Glover, Finley and George Blackwood already have made public statements opposing Laidlaw's plan to keep the dump open. The elected officials were acting appropriately, taking a stand on a matter of interest to Kansas Citians.

And keep in mind that the council doesn't appoint the Board of Zoning Adjustment; the mayor does. The council also has no power to rescind or change the BZA's decision.

The board will be able to listen to sworn testimony about the Southeast Landfill, as it should, then render its decision free from political control.

Meanwhile, the potential closing of the Southeast Landfill has rekindled concerns that a new dump will be built somewhere in Kansas City, probably north of the river.

Don't bet on it happening in this century. Or perhaps the next century either.

The city staff has tried three times in the last 20 years to place dumps in different parts of town. In all three cases, neighborhood and political opposition killed the landfills.

That will continue to happen as long as relatively cheap space remains available at three large landfills in the metropolitan area -- in Johnson County, in Kansas City, Kan., and in Sugar Creek.

Finally, Mayor Emanuel Cleaver and others have raised the possibility that building a new dump will become a political issue in the 1999 city races. But that isn't likely either.

This argument assumes that Kansas City "needs" its own landfill -- that residents don't want to continue sending their trash out of town.

Actually, most residents don't know or don't care that their garbage is being dumped in another community. They just want the trash taken off their property.

This isn't the most eco-friendly viewpoint to have. But it's a realistic one.

Moreover, none of the councilmanic hopefuls will be out promoting the construction of a new dump. That would be political suicide.

Closing the Southeast Landfill remains the most reasonable action to take, starting at Tuesday's BZA hearing.

It would be a fair decision for thousands of people who live nearby.

And such a decision would not wreak havoc on the trash disposal needs of other Kansas City residents.

All content 1999 The Kansas City Star