As promised, the owners of a Minquadale landfill where height was capped in a ordinance championed and signed into law by New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer have filed a lawsuit alleging the ordinance is unlawful, invalid, and causes irreparable harm to their business.
The 141-page complaint, obtained by WDEL, was filed by Waste Management/Delaware Recyclable Products Inc (DRPI) in Chancery Court on October 30, 2019, against Meyer and all 13 county council members.
Waste Management had been seeking a permit from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) to extend the height of its landfill on Marsh Lane from 130 ft. to 190 ft., when it claims the county "usurped DNREC's role" and passed its own ordinance limiting the landfill to 140 ft.
"The county is devoid of any of the knowledge, experience, expertise, or resources, required to propose, pass, and implement such an ordinance," the complaint reads.
Waste Management claims the county embarked on a "targeted campaign" to obstruct their lawful landfill operations--rendering them useless once the landfill height is met, which it predicts would be within a few months--and that they were unfairly targeted as one of just two operators of landfills in the county. The other is Cherry Island, located in Wilmington and operated by the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, of which the county has no jurisdiction over.
"It was no secret that the ordinance exclusively targeted the landfill," the complaint said.
However, the ordinance would impact any future landfills that would seek to come to New Castle County.
Waste Management also alleged that Meyer manufactured claims about the landfill's impact on water quality through public statements, social media posts, and a published editorial, to instill fear and get the ordinance passed.
"The 140 foot maximum landfill height is not reasonably related to public health, safety, or welfare, and because Council lacked the information and analysis necessary to make a properly informed decision on the ordinance," the lawsuit alleged.
Artesian has said it has concerns about water contamination beneath the landfill; the water company is not a party in the lawsuit.
"Meyer communicated to county residents unsubstantiated claims about alleged water impacts associated with the Landfill, which unsubstantiated claims overstepped DNREC’s expertise, lacked any factual support to establish a height limit where one did not exist, and capitalized on meritless issues raised by Artesian Resources Corporation."
The lawsuit claims Meyers statements are "unproven," that evidence from Taylor GeoServices points to the contrary--that's there no indication of the landfill's impacts on water, a finding it claims was confirmed by DNREC--and that the ordinance, further, does nothing to address alleged water quality concerns.
"The purpose of the ordinance was to limit DRPI’s height limit to 140 feet (and no other restrictions that would go toward health and safety concerns if those concerns were what was really involved)."
The complaint further accuses Councilman Dave Carter of a "data dump" that didn't give council enough time to review before it voted. In response, Carter said all of the documents are part of the public record and some are up to 25 years old.
"What was submitted for the record at the council meeting was simply a re-submission of the public records previously submitted during previous steps of the review process," Carter said in an email.
The measure was rolled out as the marquee of Meyer's environmental package; it was approved by county council on August 28, 2019, with council members Janet Kilpatrick and Tim Sheldon abstaining. All other council members voted in favor of the ordinance. It was signed into law with the landfill as the backdrop the very next morning.
"In this day and age, large companies challenge governments, and they believe they can regulate land, they can regulate people, and they can dominate governments--we're seeing it on every level of government across our country," Meyer said at the bill signing. "I'm very proud that our county council stood up...not just with the majority against this $49.95 billion company, but they stood up with unanimously...to say that environmental protection matters, that environmental justice matters, that water protection matters, and that all of us matter."
Meyer, at the time, said the public spoke out loudly against the landfill.
"In my two years, seven months in office, I don't think on any issue I've gotten more than 25 emails or calls on any particular issue; on this issue, I personally have received over 800 emails, demanding that we take action."
Carter called it a challenging effort at the billing signing.
"We have known for decades about the challenges we have of our placement of heavy industrial lands near communities, around communities. As I reviewed both the state and our local code, I realized that we had not done a good job of making sure that we were following those codes effectively to provide those buffers to protect our residents from some of the inconveniences as well as threats to health and safety that come with some of those types of uses," Carter said.
Waste Management/DRPI is asking that a judge issue an injunction against the enforcement of the ordinance as well as a declaration that the vote by county council was "illegal." Plaintiff is also asking that the county stay out of a request from DNREC for a vertical expansion of its landfill while seeking other relief.
Waste Management claim the county violated its vested rights as a private property owner and its ordinance is "arbitrary, capricious, and irrational, because it is not reasonably related to public health, safety, or welfare and because council and its members lacked adequate information to make an informed decision on the ordinance and because there was an inadequate record."
John Hambrose, a spokesman for Waste Management refrained from commenting on the lawsuit, saying "it speaks for itself."
Mike Migliore, the attorney for county council, could not comment on pending litigation.
County Executive Meyer couldn't comment on pending litigation, but prior to the lawsuit's filing, at the bill signing in August said:
"We won't back down when they sue us either."
Read the full complaint: