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County kills trash station proposal

The St. Louis County Department of Health's denial of Fred Weber Inc.'s application to operate a trash-transfer station in Oakville effectively kills the proposal unless the company mounts a successful legal challenge to the decision.

The Missouri Department of Natural Re-sources still is evaluating Fred Weber Inc.'s proposal to construct and operate a transfer station on Baumgartner Road, but the company needs concurrent approval from the DNR and the health department before a permit could be issued — which now is not possible.

The health department early last week sent a letter to Thomas Dunne of Fred Weber denying the company's request to construct the trash-transfer station on a 4.4-acre site on Baumgartner Road.

Because the health department denied the proposal, the DNR has to go through a series of technicalities, but the proposal will not be approved, according to Russell Sharp-mack, the health department's program manager for solid- waste management.

"They will not issue a permit," Sharpmack said of the DNR. "It's not even a question. Both permits are conditional. It's not an either-or situation."

Soon after the DNR learned the health department had denied Fred Weber's request, Philip Tremblay, solid-waste management program spokesman, said the DNR sent a letter to the office of County Executive George R. "Buzz" Westfall on Sept. 24 asking if the project is in compliance with local planning and zoning regulations.

This letter was required by state law. If the county responds that the Fred Weber proposal is in compliance, then the DNR will continue to review the proposal. If the county finds the project is not in compliance, then by law, the DNR must deny the application. Tremblay said Fred Weber itself may withdraw its application before it gets to that point.

The county has 30 days to respond to this letter. At the Call's press time, the DNR had not received a response from Westfall's office.

Still, even if the county responded with a letter supporting the proposal and the DNR eventually approved the Fred Weber proposal, the station could not be constructed because it would lack approval from both entities.

The health department has been evaluating the proposed Oakville transfer station since May. Community members have flooded public forums and St. Louis County Council meetings expressing their disapproval of such a station in Oakville.

"There was quite a bit of correspondence back and forth between us and Fred Weber," Sharpmack said. "Then in June and July everything just came to a head with public outcry."

He said the health department took much of this public feedback into consideration, but the department paid more attention to waste management codes to reach its final decision.

"Yes, we listened, but our hands were tied," he said. "We have to use ordinances, codes, laws and regulation to decide if facilities are legal. We listen, but our influence is pretty much black and white.

"If we don't follow code, we could end up being sued. On a high-profile case, no matter which way you go, someone's going to go to court. The people aren't happy or an industry is not happy. Either way, we expect to find ourselves in court at one time or another."

With any proposal, he said, the health department contacts waste-management companies with concerns before issuing a denial letter — giving the company a chance to revise the proposal before a final decision is made.

To Sharpmack's knowledge, he said Fred Weber and the health department went back and forth at least three times.

"We found more things we didn't agree with," he said. "We thought things needed to be safer. They changed some parts of the proposal. Some things didn't change, such as noise codes and hot loads. Those weren't surprises."

The denial letter listed broad statements explaining why the health department rejected the proposal. Some of those reasons were that the transfer station would be hazardous to public health, it would violate county laws and ordinances and it would not be in the best interest of county residents.

The letter identified 10 more specific reasons why the department could not support the proposal. Two of them referred directly to recently approved county legislation.

The letter said the Baumgartner site was too close to non-industrial buildings and would violate a new county ordinance that prohibits the construction of waste facilities within 1,000 feet of residences, churches, schools, child and adult-care centers.

The letter also stated the county was in the middle of revising waste management codes and "it would not serve the interests or convenience of county residents to approve this waste facility plan pending a determination of what regulations may finally be imposed."

In mid-September, councilmen unanimously approved a moratorium freezing all permits that would allow any entity to establish a transfer station or waste processing facility for six months in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Councilmen claim this time will be used to revise current waste-management codes.

Even if county councilmen had not amended the waste-management code, the health department would have denied Fred Weber's proposal based on other safety concerns, Sharpmack said.

"But that's not to say Fred Weber wouldn't have made changes if needed and then reapplied," he said.

The DNR initially rejected the proposal because Fred Weber had not proven ownership of the proposed location on Baumgartner Road, but Fred Weber resubmitted its application with ownership proof.

No one from Fred Weber has contacted the health department with intentions of resubmitting the Oakville proposal.

Derrick Standley of Genesis Solid Waste Group Inc., a Fred Weber consultant, said he would not comment about whether the company planned to resubmit its proposal to the health department or if it would pursue an appeal in the court system.

Sharpmack said, "And now if they do resubmit, they will have to wait until the end of the moratorium.''

The letter also stated that the Fred Weber proposal would:

• Violate noise control codes. The code allows levels up to 55 decibels whereas the proposal indicated the site would produce 85 dB.

• Keep hot loads inside the station building posing fire hazards.

• Create a rodent and insect hazard because the proposal did not include a maintenance plan for its retention ponds or weed growth.

• Contribute to a public health nuisance because details surrounding an odor controlling mist system were absent from the plan.

County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, said he was pleased with the health department's swift decision.

"I was really happy with the health department and their decision to come down right away after we passed the legislation and ordinances," Campisi said. "We didn't want to sit there and hang while the health department was making their decision."

Now councilmen are waiting for the Planning Commission to identify areas in the county where waste transfer sites can go and how far apart they will have to be. The Planning Commission has been moving "quickly" on the issue, Campisi said, and he expects the commission to submit a recommendation to the County Council by the end of October.

Also, Campisi said councilmen are planning to draft legislation that will require all waste-transfer facilities to have a conditional use-permit, which will include a list of requirements for property developers.

"This is just the next step," Campisi said. "We're finished with our part of it. We'll see what Fred Weber does after this. I'm really happy the health department came down with a decision. We'll have to wait and see what the DNR does with theirs."

Despite the health department's denial and the likely denial from the DNR, Campisi said Fred Weber could appeal the decisions in court.

"We (councilmen) were told that they were going to appeal it by many people in the Fred Weber facility," he said. "I'm sure that judge would have a lot on this plate."

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