|Poplar Springs sparks debate in Loudon
After a 5-5 vote by Loudon County Commission halted work on the old Poplar Springs Landfill, Loudon City Council voted 3-1 on Aug. 28 in a special called meeting to authorize the letting of a contract bid.
The vote was largely symbolic. Work can’t take place on the former landfill unless commission authorizes moving forward.
“I would like for a motion to be made sending a signal to Loudon County and Lenoir City, our two partners in the Poplar Springs Landfill, that Loudon city is on board with the remediation project — with the contract being signed to allow for remediation to be done,” Joe Ford, city attorney, said. “… This is the advice of J.W. Luna, the environmental attorney hired to help us with this project.
“... Poplar Springs Landfill most directly effects us because it sits right up against the city,” Ford added. “Everybody familiar with where it is, it’s a very personal issue for us. I think that it’s something the city needs to show support for.”
Luna Law Group PLLC is at the center of the controversy surrounding remediation at Poplar Springs. Legal fees for the Luna group have cut the reserve fund for the landfill below $200,000 after a pending $15,000 invoice is paid. The balance in the reserve fund was $437,968 just four years ago.
Kelly Littleton-Brewster, one of the commissioners who voted against landfill remediation at the Aug. 21 commission meeting, attended the city council meeting to stand behind her vote.
“If we go through with this grant contract then we’re going to be in the negative at $76,000,” Littleton-Brewster said.
Ford took issue with Littleton-Brewster’s calculations due to $88,000 the county authorized to be paid to Loudon County attorney Bob Bowman out of the reserve fund for acting as a liaison between the county and Luna Law Group.
“You can’t just take that out of Poplar Springs. That’s Loudon’s money,” Ford said. “... Not until this board and Lenoir City passes that.”
Littleton-Brewster’s calculation also did not include $87,000 from a matching grant, though it was unclear if that is still on the table.
“We’ll be forfeiting that if we don’t move forward,” Jeff Harris, city councilman, said.
“We might be forfeiting that anyway,” Ford added.
Loudon Mayor Jim Greenway laid blame for the excessive legal fees at the feet of the county.
“When the city gave permission to the county to oversee that fund, whose oversight did it become that, that work get done?”
Greenway said. “It didn’t get done. So now after we’ve frittered away all the money, somebody is raising their hand and saying, ‘Hey.’”
Littleton-Brewster laid blame at the feet of County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw.
There was also disagreement between Littleton-Brewster and council on the details of the remediation contract. Ford and Harris both believe the contract would include any further remediation cost over the next 10 years. Littleton-Brewster does not.
“The document at the courthouse says a 10-year maintenance easement agreement,” Littleton-Brewster said. “But it says nothing about funding.”
Littleton-Brewster reiterated stances she took following the commission vote that property owner Herb Newton should share in responsibility for the land and that TDEC should determine responsible parties before any more money is spent.
“It is in the city of Loudon’s best interest to protect its citizens,” Ford said. “... The contract is laying on the desk at the purchasing department to be signed. That was going to start Sept. 1 if that could be signed. It’s not going to be signed because the county commission deadlocked us at 5-5 and said we’re not going to allow the county to participate.”
Ultimately, council voted 3-1 with Johnny James against and Lynn Millsaps absent.
“We need to cut the expenses off, but we’re just increasing them the longer you drag this out,” Harris said. “We can’t cry over spilt milk. We can’t get that money back. So this is not doing anything but costing us more. ... If (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) comes in and makes us do it, we’re still going to have to pay to do it. Where’s that money doing to come from?
“It’s the same thing,” he added. “If they force us to do it, we’re still going to have to pay for it. So why don’t we just pay for it and fix it and go on? It’s going to happen one way or the other. ... I think that’s the last thing we want is for TDEC to come in and tell us what to do.”
Process starts again
Loudon also voted unanimously, with Millsaps absent, on a first reading of the 2017-18 fiscal year budget.
A second reading of the budget failed in a deadlock Aug. 21, prompting the special called meeting.
With the Aug. 28 vote, Loudon will now attempt to pass a budget, which will also allow for the passing of the city’s tax rate, at the Sept. 18 meeting.
Council set a public hearing for 6:25 p.m. Sept. 18 with the meeting scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.