The tension was palpable last Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 10 and 11, at the Vandalia Moose Lodge as the Fayette County Board heard arguments both favor and opposed to applicant Chris Sutter’s proposed waste transfer station.
The proposed station is to be in the same area as some rural Fayette County homes, along Route 185, west of Vandalia, and south of St. Elmo. Those attending were divided on the proposal, with some citizens in favor, some opposed. Legal counsel representing the opposition was particularly fierce, but the outcome is yet to be decided by the Fayette County Board in a future vote.
The initial presentation of the application was given by Patrick Shaw, an attorney acting as legal counsel for Chris Sutter. Shaw’s presentation for the facility centered around several main points.
First, the entire facility would be enclosed, and fenced. Second, the facility has no zoning preventing it’s construction. Third, it would have the appearance of a machine shed. Additionally, no hazardous waste would be allowed at the facility. Inspections of waste would occur inside the building on a concrete floor.
Shaw also stated the closest facility of this type is in Peoria, and that Sutter’s facility would have Fayette County as the proposed service area.
However, these points were contested with vigor by the opposition, dominated Wednesday by Attorney Richard Porter who spoke at length, giving a presentation of the opposition’s arguments against Sutter’s application.
Porter thoroughly cross-examined Chris Sutter, finding numerous perceived problematic details in Sutter’s waste facility proposal. Porter attacked everything from the legal description of the lot, the lack of engineer stamps on the paperwork, proposed measurements of the facility, and the failure to correctly give neighboring property owners notice, among other issues.
Regarding these points, Sutter responded that he had certified mail receipts proving he mailed the notices, and showed photos of the mail receipts. Porter dismissed these receipts, saying that Sutter got his list from the US Postal Service, and not from the county tax records, a necessary procedural process. Failure to follow this exact procedure rendered the entire application process improper, Porter argued. He continued, compairing this to an attorney’s practice, saying that if an attorney failed to give proper notice, it would be malpractice.
Porter then expanded this point – regarding notice failure – to demand a vote for an end to the meeting. He emphasized that Sutter’s failure to give notice meant the board couldn’t even hold the hearing. Porter said that the county hearing was illegal for lack of jurisdiction because the correct notification procedures had not been followed. No such vote was taken at that point by the board members, giving an appearance the board did not fully accept Porter’s argument.
During cross-examination, Porter also conducted a scathing, personal attack of Sutter’s credibility. Moderator Scott Kains, a Springfield attorney specializing on such matters, cautioned Porter, and asked him to return to the application itself. Porter told the moderator these personal attacks on Sutter were necessary because Sutter’s credibility mattered for the application.
Some subjects that came under Porter’s crosshairs were Sutter’s education, personal integrity, work history, and his competence.
Sutter later commented about being through such a crucible by an aggressive and skilled attorney like Porter, he just shrugged and said, “He [Porter] was just doing his job,” and wasn’t mad at Porter.
Facility Engineer Adam Bohnhoff also spoke before the board. Discussion went back and forth on many design points. Bohnhoff said that the facility is, “still in a design phase process,” and when confronted about safety he said, “You’re asking me if on step two of three, ‘Is it safe yet?’” Bohnhoff said the facility would have all the safety features necessary because that is his duty as a civil engineer. “It’s a process,” said Bohnhoff.
Porter responded to Bohnhoff’s design promises by saying, “that time frame [for design] was supposed to be before the application, that’s what this hearing is all about. To review that.” During cross-examination of Bohnhoff, some tentative, unstamped design plans were shown.
Porter said loudly, “You want this board to approve a design they haven’t seen!”
Discussion went back and forth regarding vehicle traffic. At one point the opposition argued both ways, saying that there wasn’t a need for the facility due to low trash volume, but then also created stress for board members over the worst case, what-if scenarios regarding extreme traffic.
Rick Myers – another opposition attorney – spoke on the lack-of-safety issue, saying to Bohnhoff that, “You’re asking us to take your word for it,” and that the permission for the facility can only be granted, “if the site meets those criteria” which are prescribed for it by law. Myers argued the application was supposed to submit sufficient detail, and it failed to do that.
Bohnhoff replied, “We’re going to expand on that, and provide more specs and details.”
Later, Porter attacked the description of the facility, “This is considered a waste transfer station to haul away Fayette County waste…but buildings don’t do that…what he [Sutter] is actually seeking to establish is a facility taking 400 tons of waste.”
The opposition then called witnesses. One expert witness spoke on Sutter’s failures to meet the prerequisites, and how serious that was as an issue, since those prerequisites are called for by law for good reasons. The expert witness emphasized the necessity of following those regulations, and gave numerous reasons.
Another witness, speaking at length, was Chris Sutter’s former employer – also in the trash business – who spoke in a way that seemed to be focused on attacking Sutter’s integrity in a very personal way, implying Sutter lied and stole customers from him.
While listening to this, James Wehrle pulled his microphone up and asked the speaker, “Do you have a non-compete clause with Mr. Sutter?” The man responded, “No.” Wehrle pushed his microphone away quickly, and looked away from the witness. Sutter’s attorney also asked the witness what reason he could have for saying these things, outside of family revenge. The witness seemed to struggle with that question.
At one point the board opened for comment by a citizen allegedly speaking on behalf of a local organization against the facility, but her testimony prompted a discussion on hearsay because her facts were sharply contested by two board members, leading to a direct confrontation. However, despite the problematic testimony, she made one important point regarding possible environmental damage that needed to be addressed.
Susan Tackett, a local citizen with years of expertise in cleaning up hurricane debris, followed up on that environmental concern. Tackett said, “I pick up trash, and found this bag at least a mile from it’s point of origin. Think how easily a plastic bag blows.” Tackett then emphasized her point by throwing a plastic bag toward the board members, where it stayed for the rest of the meeting.
Leah A. Washburn, trustee from Otego Township also spoke to the board, stating that the township voted against allowing the trash facility in a unanimous vote. She asked for a denial from the board, based on this vote. According to Washburn, the township believed any possible good from the facility would not outweigh the harm it would cause to the community, specifically citing road damage. The township’s resolution letter was filed with the board.
Other citizens spoke in favor of the facility, saying they needed to move their trash and that it would actually be an environmental concern without a new trash facility. Additional comments included one citizen’s statement that the roads used for the facility would be maintained by the state government, that the measurements from the attorneys were incorrect, and that attorney criticism on the thickness of the application binder was misleading.
Tony Koberlein, speaking in favor of Sutter’s application, expressed two important concerns. One of his concerns was regarding the damage caused by animals when trash wasn’t quickly removed, and his other concern was over the lack of jobs and businesses in Fayette County. Koberlein said there were good economic reasons to build the facility. He said loudly to the board, “I think we built Effingham big enough.”
Rick Myers summarized the opposition to the application by saying, “This petition wholly fails…he [Sutter] has the requirements in his petition, but fails to provide evidence to support most of them.”
Sutter believes the county could simply regulate his proposed facility if they still had lingering concerns. At the close of the proceeding, he said, “Never give up on your dreams.”
When Sutter was asked what he would do if his application got rejected, Sutter smiled and said matter-of-factly, “I’ll just continue to haul trash, and smile.”