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05-11-04 St. Marys wins partial judgment in landfill case

By Timothy Cox
tcox@dailystandard.com

  ST. MARYS -- The city won partial judgment in its lawsuit against Auglaize County in a battle over which government entity should bear the costs of environmental monitoring at the St. Marys landfill.

  Visiting Judge Charles Steele ruled last week in Auglaize County Common Pleas Court that the county produced "no genuine issues of material fact," in its defense.
  The city sued to seek court interpretation of a contract signed by city officials and county solid waste district officials in 1988. The contract, which expired in 2000, called for the county to pay annual environmental monitoring costs at the landfill. County officials had argued their responsibility for the monitoring fees ceased when the contract expired; city officials argued the contract included obligations that stretched beyond the life of the agreement.
  City officials have estimated the mandatory 30-year monitoring program could cost more than $4.8 million through 2031.
  Steele ruled the contract contains "clear and unambiguous terms" that call for the county to shoulder the burden of the monitoring fees.  "This is very good news. It's a positive development by it, but by no means concludes the matter," said St. Marys Law Director Kraig Noble.
  Noble said a number of lesser issues remain to be sorted out by the court, including whether the county will be forced to pick up the city's legal bill for the case. The sides also must come to terms on the more than $200,000 that has been spent on monitoring since the case was filed in May 2002.
  A county motion for summary judgment in its favor was denied by Steele.
  Because the case has not entirely been settled, a two-week jury trial remains scheduled for July, although Noble admitted the court's recent ruling covers most of the city's claim. The county could still appeal Steele's ruling.
  No pretrial hearings or conferences between attorneys are scheduled at this time, Noble said.
  One issue remaining to be resolved by the court is whether the city will be awarded its court costs. As of this week, city officials estimate they have spent $330,000 litigating the landfill issue, which also included an appeal to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission. Coupled with the monitoring fees, the city has spent more than $500,000 during the past couple of years.
  County officials this morning declined comment. Commissioner John Bergman said commissioners want to discuss the matter with their attorneys before deciding how to proceed. Bergman would not say if an appeal is likely or if the funding mechanism for the county solid waste district would have to be modified to increase future revenue. Commissioners were just getting their first look at the ruling this morning, he said.
  In other business at a Monday St. Marys council meeting, city council members:
   Passed final reading of an ordinance refinancing $1,017,000 in debt that was used for improvements at the landfill.
   Passed first reading of an ordinance accepting the annexation of 70.121 acres of land near the intersection of U.S. 33 and Ohio 66. The land still needs to be given a zoning classification. The area already is served by water and sewer lines and development is expected, although city officials have heard no firm plans for the site, Safety-Service Director Mike Weadock said.

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