Citizens voice concerns about county landfill salePublished 11:05pm Thursday, July 22, 2010
By KATIE JOHNSON
Niles Daily Star
Citizens packed the Niles Conference Inn Thursday night to learn more about the proposed sale of the Southeast Berrien County Landfill, but few answers were revealed.
Organized by Bertrand Township trustees Dick Haigh and David Zelmer, the public hearing included a question-and-answer session and presentation primarily given by Haigh discussing the alleged actions that led up to the landfill board’s 6-4 vote on May 19 to sell the landfill.
A $1.2 million loan to replace a nearly filled cell was put on hold when several municipal owners refused to back it.
Niles Charter Township Supervisor Jim Kidwell has been critical of pursuing a bank loan for a landfill operating on a $700,000 deficit.
Haigh and Zelmer were both against the sale, as were Richard Noble of Niles Township and Brian Dineen of Buchanan Township. Haigh accused the other board members of holding “secret closed door” meetings prior to the vote, what he called “a violation of public trust.”
“Is this the way you want your elected public officials to represent you?” he asked the citizens. “It seems quite a plan to me … they really do have something to hide.”
The suspected “secret” meetings are ludicrous, said Kidwell, who attended the hearing.
“He (Haigh) has nothing to base it on,” Kidwell said.
“There were no secret meetings,” he said, and that board members have been debating this issue for many years and are educated about the workings of the landfill.
Kidwell allegedly told WNDU during a July 14 interview that the landfill had been discussed during committee meetings; Haigh claims there were no such meetings.
Kidwell claims he believes Niles Township residents are supportive of the sale of the landfill, which he says needs to be “run by a professional” and is currently a liability. If sold, Bertrand Township will receive a more than $70,000 per year tipping fee. He said public hearings do not need to be on the other four municipalities’ agendas — Niles Township, City of Niles, Buchanan Township and Buchanan — because they would be a waste of taxpayers’ money and also because the landfill board members have made an educated decision.
Several citizens speculated about whether or not waste rates will increase under a private company; no answers to those questions were available, as any details are still premature.
Bertrand Township Clerk Jane Lano said following the hearing that Haigh claiming secret meetings have been held is “the pot calling the kettle black.”
She claims that some board members have met as a quorum, but did not issue public notices first.
“I think that to do this tonight was very premature,” she said. “There’s not enough information.
“They were manipulated,” she said of the citizens attending the hearing. “They heard what the presenter wanted them to hear.”
Some citizens inquired about circulating a petition or putting the issue to a referendum vote. It is too late to get it on the 2010 ballot, but no one had any answers as to the procedure for a petition.
Haigh encouraged citizens to voice their opinions to officials and attend meetings.
Bertrand Township meets the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m.
Niles Township meets the first and third Monday at 7 p.m.
Buchanan Township meets the first and third Thursday at 7 p.m.
City of Buchanan meets the second and fourth Monday at 6 p.m.
City of Niles meets the second and fourth Monday at 6 p.m.