Nebraska Supreme Court ruling helps Butler County in landfill dispute

March 25, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN — A court ruling has cast doubt over the expansion of a regional landfill near David City that accepts solid waste from Sarpy County and Pottawattamie County in Iowa.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruling favors the Butler County Board of Supervisors, which has rejected a proposed 160-acre expansion of a private landfill operated by Waste Connections.

The landfill accepts about 550,000 tons of waste per year from 15 to 20 counties in Nebraska, plus Council Bluffs in Iowa. The existing 145-acre landfill site is projected to reach capacity in seven to nine years.

The landfill appealed the board’s rejection in early 2016, and Butler County District Judge Mary Gilbride found that the board had failed to provide specific, written reasons for its decision. The judge set the board’s decision aside and sent the application back with instructions to provide a detailed explanation for its decision.

The board responded by saying it had considered six criteria for landfill siting as required by state law. The board said it unanimously found that the landfill had failed to evaluate the public health effects of the expansion, and therefore, the application was denied.

The judge ruled that the board’s denial “was not based on competent evidence in the record, was contrary to law and was arbitrary and capricious.” Gilbride sent the landfill’s application back to the County Board with an order to approve it.

The county appealed the district court’s order more than a year ago.

Friday’s opinion by Supreme Court Judge Lindsey Miller-Lerman said the lower court lacked jurisdiction to decide the controversy because the landfill had not followed procedure when it appealed the board’s rejection. As a result, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and let the board’s denial of the expansion stand.

The high court pointed out that because it didn’t have jurisdiction over the case, it did not rule on the merits of the district court’s decision.

Butler County Attorney Julie Reiter said Friday that state law lets landfills resubmit applications, although the rules call for a waiting period between applications. She said the vast majority of the waste put into the landfill originates from outside Butler County.

An official with Waste Connections and one of its lawyers declined to comment about the ruling Friday.

Sarpy County is about five years into a 25-year contract with Waste Connections. The company picks up the waste at a transfer station and trucks it roughly 60 miles west to the Butler County landfill.