By William Kutschera
— On Sept. 9, 2013, The Herald Bulletin front page headline read, “Best Way Disposal buys Mallard Lake Landfill property.” The headline’s subtitle, “No plans to develop property as landfill,” resulted in sighs of relief by many Madison County residents who thought that finally, after 35 years of fierce opposition, the threat to our water which the dump would pose was finally crushed.
As chairman of the Killbuck Concerned Citizens Association, I was asked to attend a meeting held the day of the sale closing. At the meeting, Best Way’s Anderson manager, Andy Drummond, told me that, “Best Way has no plans or need at this time to develop the property as a landfill,” but would continue to lease it for farming. He also stated the actual buyer was Bex Farms, Inc., Best Way’s parent company. Though dubious about a waste-based company’s purchase of 254 acres on which a 13-acre landfill was permitted, out of courtesy I didn’t question him. But, as The Herald Bulletin’s editorial said on Sept. 13, 2013, “The company said its immediate plans are to rent the ‘tillable land’ to local farmers. That uneasy feeling is coming back.”
In that same article, Bex Farms is quoted as saying, “It does, however, include a valid permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.” Assuming that statement was accurately reported, it would not have been a misstatement but an intentional deception. J.M. Corp. was the holder of the IDEM permit and it did not transfer to Bex Farms with the purchase which the buyer must have known. On the same day as the press release was given to The Herald Bulletin, and I sat in Best Way's local office being briefed on the "announcement," principals of Bex Farms and its affiliate, 600 Land, signed a 27-page application for the transfer of the landfill permit from J.M. Corp. to Bex Farms. So, while stating it had, “No plans or need at this time to develop the property as a landfill,” the buyers felt it imperative that they apply that day for the transfer of the IDEM permit not due to expire until February 2015. Why?
A search of state records revealed that these parent companies own landfills, waste transfer stations and waste collection businesses. Their only interest in farming is for the generation of revenue from tenant farmers while awaiting permits to operate landfills on newly acquired land. In fact, in 2010, Bex Farms attempted to have 115 acres of “farmland” adjacent to its Greensburg, Ind., landfill rezoned from agricultural to industrial in order to expand its landfill. It was unsuccessful because Decatur County’s Plan Commission denied the application for rezoning.
A 2011 title search of the landfill property purchased from J.M. Corporation, revealed the J.M. held clear title to the 254 acres. Yet, Thomas Gunn, trustee of the Ward-Stilson Trust, which sold the property to J.M. Corp./Reed family in 1979, was quoted as saying, “Ultimately, we’re pleased that circumstances came together and that we were able to do the transaction.’’
“We’re pleased" and "we were able to do the transaction?’’ Those possessives demand explanation. Who really owned the land?
The well-timed announcement that so many of us hoped would one day come was nothing but a tactic to relax our vigil and cease citizen opposition. Will it succeed? Our county government has failed to take up the issue for 35 years. It’s time for every one of us to call our commissioners and tell them their voiced opposition to this threat is no substitute for the action to protect the citizens of Madison County they pledged when we elected them.