STEUBENVILLE - The long running dispute on the proper closing of the former city landfill near the Jefferson County Airpark was settled Tuesday when city administration officials signed a settlement agreement with the Ohio Attorney General and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
City Manager Cathy Davison said the settlement will close the 29-year dispute between the city and state officials, "and at the same time will not force us into a financial crisis."
Davison said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine agreed to waive $3.5 million in penalties that had accrued during the 29-year period.
"The game changer in this long-running issue was legislation approved by City Council in February that designated the oil and gas revenues from that property would be used only for the closing of the landfill. That action showed the attorney general and the OEPA the city was serious about reaching a settlement," cited Davison.
She had estimated in February the city was facing a $10 million bill for permanently closing the old landfill under the OEPA guidelines.
"The settlement agreement calls for two phases. The first will be the installation of a wetlands area at the old landfill. The second phase will include the installation of a permanent cap on the landfill site only if the city has the money for the project from the oil and gas drilling contract we agreed to with the Hess Ohio Development Corp. in February," explained Davison.
The shale drilling company agreed to pay the city $5,400 an acre or a total of $597,256.20 and 19 percent royalties for the 110-acre site for an initial five-year period with the option to lease the land for a second five-year period.
"I want to publicly thank Law Director Gary Repella for his work on negotiating this settlement. His diligence made this settlement a reality," noted Davison.
Repella said the city was ordered to stop taking solid waste to the former city landfill in the early 1970s.
The city currently takes its municipal waste to the Brooke County Landfill.
"There are two water outfalls at the site. We will now start planning for the creation of two approved wetlands at the old landfill to make sure the water is clean and does not affect the local waterways in any way," said Repella.
"This is exciting. When I signed the agreement this afternoon I was actually emotional. No city manager has been able to reach a suitable agreement on the landfill during the past 29 years. This is a major step forward for the city," said Davison.
The settlement agreement was tentatively reached during a meeting in Columbus in June.
According to the letter signed off on by DeWine, Davison and Repella, the wetland remediation will begin immediately and will be completed by Oct. 31, 2013.
"Both parties understand that the deadline for substantial completion of construction may not be met. It is the intent of both parties to work together and attempt to meet this deadline. However if this deadline is not successfully met, the state of Ohio will not enforce this deadline if the city has made sincere efforts to complete construction in a timely manner and continues to make progress toward completion," noted the agreement letter from Associate Attorney General Nicholas J. Bryan of the attorney general's environmental enforcement section.