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Suit gives 5 million reasons to oppose Fred Weber Inc.

"My Call" by Bill Milligan

A lawsuit filed by Fred Weber Inc. may give opponents of the company's efforts to operate a trash-transfer station on Baumgartner Road either a rally cry or scare them so badly they give up the fight.

Either way, Fred Weber's $5 million lawsuit against Oakville resident Tom Diehl indicates the company may not care as much about south county residents as it let on during repeated public hearings on its proposals to operate a trash-transfer station in Oakville.

Diehl faces counts of slander, libel, civil conspiracy and business defamation for his alleged association with fliers that were distributed last December identifying Fred Weber Inc. as "trash terrorists," according to claims made by the company in the suit.

The flier urges residents to write county officials and suggests any of four companies for garbage pickup that apparently don't do business with Weber's landfill. The flier also seeks contributions payable to Subdivision Fee Collectors Inc. to fund the fight against the unwanted trash-transfer station.

Though originally named as a defendant, Subdivision Fee Collectors Inc., since has been dropped from the suit. Besides Diehl, Weber has included as defendants "certain John Does, unknown and unidentified individuals and/or entities.'' The company is seeking $5 million in punitive damages and at least $25,000 in actual damages because it claims it has been "embarrassed and humiliated'' by trash-transfer station opponents.

"FWI (Fred Weber Inc.) has been exposed to public contempt and ridicule, its reputation in the business community has been injured,'' wrote their attorney, Jeffrey Brian Hunt.

We emphatically agree. But is Weber suing the right people? Rather than sue south county residents who are protecting their homes and community from an unwanted business, perhaps Fred Weber stockholders should be suing the executives who believe they can run over St. Louis County government and its residents.

"FWI has suffered and continues to suffer ... the loss of business at its landfill in an amount not yet ascertained,'' Hunt wrote. The suit alleges that opponents of the trash station "maliciously spoke of and concerning FWI in a disparaging, false and defamatory manner.''

Weber attorneys claim that terrorists are associated with "acts of injuring and killing innocent people by fanatics and killing innocent people by fanatics who hate the United States.''

But terrorism is more than that and the definition changes depending on the eye of the beholder. Terrorism existed long before the 9/11 tragedy. Terrorism is the use of fear to shape public policy and perception.

Terrorists believe that when people get scared, they accept things they normally wouldn't tolerate.

As far as we know, terrorism began in Libya when residents of the southern provinces wanted to overthrow French colonial government and nationalize the nation's oil fields. France resisted by using the police and the courts to persecute dissidents. Young men soon started joining clandestine societies where membership was secret to prevent anyone from betraying the movement under torture.

To fight the French, the men strapped bombs under their coats and set them off in public places. Soon, the French gave Libya its independence. Libyan schools today exalt those "terrorists'' as freedom fighters.

We doubt that Weber's lawsuit will ever elevate Weber or its managers to freedom-fighter status in our schools, but the specter of a $5 million lawsuit may scare some of the people who have showed up at hearing after hearing to oppose their trash-transfer station plan and give them 5 million reasons to stay home and keep quiet.

My dictionary defines fanatics as "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.''

Weber's attorneys say terrorists are fanatics. Couldn't reasonable people conclude that any company that persists in trying to locate a trash-transfer station in a community that doesn't want it is fanatical?

Aside from the terrorist flap, Weber's conduct during this ordeal has been less than reassuring.

Weber spokesman Derrick Standley has contended that the company's proposal to operate a trash-transfer station in Oakville has been opposed by "a handful of residents ... I don't believe the entire Oakville area feels this way." He might just as well claim the Titanic was lost in a mud puddle.

Opposition to Fred Weber's proposal is so overwhelming that even Republican and Democratic elected officials are working together to stop it. You don't see that every day. Opponents of the trash station have proposed several alternative locations for the trash operation, none of which Weber has agreed to review. At least three elected officials were willing to explore the proposed compromise locations.

Everyone living in St. Louis County should keep an eye on this Fred Weber bunch because this trash-transfer station is a real threat to our way of life. If it is ever built, it could lead to incorporation of the third largest city in Missouri and an end to life as we've known it in unincorporated south county.

Two years ago everyone living in south county would have unconditionally supported just about anything Fred Weber wanted. I doubt that's true anymore. It isn't anything anyone outside Fred Weber did or said. Fred Weber officials have no one but themselves to blame for the negative public persona they decry in their lawsuit.

In the final analysis, the only thing Fred Weber may have accomplished is to establish a name for the new city — Doeville.

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