LISBON -More than 100 people crowded into a small conference room at the Days Inn for what is expected to be the first of several clashes between a company wanting to open a solid waste landfill in West Point and the residents who are opposed.
Hosted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Wednesday's meeting is the first of several that must be held before the OEPA can act on the permit application submitted by West Point Development LLC.
WPD is a subsidiary of the Rosebud Mining Co., which has operated a coal ash landfill just south of West Point since 1995. WPD has applied for a permit to build a 117-acre solid waste landfill at the same location, of which 50 acres would eventually overlap with the existing coal ash landfill.
This hearing was for the OEPA to explain how the public comment process would work and for WPD officials to also answer questions about what they are proposing. Two more public hearings are required.
The OEPA's John Hujar was taken aback by the standing-room-only crowd that overflowed into the hallway, saying they will have to find a larger place for future hearings.
"Obviously, there's a lot of interest. We didn't know there would be this kind of interest," he said.
Resident Jenny Laneve told him he had better get used to it because residents have mobilized before to fight a previous landfill project near them. "I think you underestimate us and underestimate the caliber of people here ... I think I can speak for everyone in the room that no one here wants this," she said.
Although the landfill could accept traditional garbage once permitted, Gary Alkire of Rosebud Mining said they intend to focus on drill cuttings from oil and gas drilling operations in the region. Drill cuttings are rock and soil excavated during the drilling process and what remains after the drilling fluids (mud) are recovered for reuse.
"We see an opportunity to accept drill cuttings from these drilling sites ... That is the impetus for us to do this," he said.
WPD's landfill will have a disposal capacity of 18.8 million cubic yards of waste. Officials said they expect to take in 1,500 tons per day on average but are seeking a permitted maximum daily disposal limit of 4,000 tons.
The major concern among residents is the potential threat posed by the drill cuttings, which is the mixture of soil and rocks excavated by the drilling process. Cuttings contain low levels of naturally occurring radioactivity commonly found in rock formations and are not subject to testing. These cuttings are considered a solid waste in Ohio and can legally be disposed of at traditional landfills.
Barry Alexin, chief engineer for Rosebud Mining, indicated they will have monitoring stations to measure radioactivity as trucks deliver drill cuttings to the landfill. "We don't have to take it (if the readings exceed 5 picocuries). I've worked other places and we've sent the loads back," he said.
A group of residents, starting with Douglas Sanford, began the meeting with a series of detailed questions. Chris Cuic asked if WPD would allow a person designated by the community to periodically inspect the landfill, and officials indicated that is a possibility.
"We certainly don't take you people lightly or for granted ... The quality of the questions you've asked prove that," Alkire said. "We would like to work with you as opposed to working against you. We will be as transparent as we can during the process."
The landfill will have six types of natural and synthetic liners under it to prevent the waste from leaching into the groundwater, although residents questioned how effective this would be in stopping radioactive contamination.
"We don't anticipate any radiological issues," said Alkire, who is a hydrogeologist.
State Rep. Nick Barborak was in attendance and asked WPD if they would make it part of their permit not to accept cuttings with picocurie readings above an agreed-upon level.
Barborak, D-Lisbon, also pledged to do what he can to ensure the company follows every regulation and law and also indicated he would be willing to introduce legislation tightening up requirements to help address public concerns.
"I think as long as you stick together I think you are entitled to have your questions answered completely and I hope that you're not just being listened to but heard," he said.
Laneve remained unconvinced and said the residents were digging in for the the long haul, telling one of the OEPA representatives in attendance she was going to "make his life hell" by bothering him all of the time.
"I know this is about money. It's always about money, but please take into consideration the people who live here," Laneve told company officials.