Neighborhood 'reared its head, barked really loud' - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Neighborhood 'reared its head, barked really loud'

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Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:15 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Since January, Steve Storzer, Melissa Rohlik and Pam Ruppelius have been consumed by the possibility that a major commercial landfill might be built near the rural subdivision they call home off Silverbell Road.

"We've all given up seven months of our lives," Rohlik said Saturday at an Arizona Pavilions coffee shop, 10 days before the expected Aug. 17 Marana Town Council vote on a zoning change that would accept the Marana Regional Landfill specific plan.

"We eat, breathe, sleep, nightmare the dump," Rohlik added.

Their concerns began with the effect of a landfill upon property values in the subdivision, a 92-acre assortment of site-built and primarily manufactured homes on one-acre lots first developed in the early 1970s.

Their worries grew as they researched the possible effects of flood water upon a landfill, and whether a landfill would leak into the aquifer.

"Everything got larger and larger," Rohlik said. "They were saying 'you're just here screaming 'not in my backyard,” and then it got worse and worse."

DKL Holdings, the company that proposes to build the landfill, and its president Larry Henk thought "we'd roll over and play dead," she continued. "This little grassroots community has really reared its head and barked really loud."

"If we had the money to put out there like he does to advertise, this would have been dead in the water a long time ago," Ruppelius said.

Instead, people in the neighborhood — with help from other sources — have conducted a vigilant, low-cost, petition-aided, web-powered and emotion-laden campaign against the project. Opponents of the landfill have attended virtually every town council meeting since the project was announced in January, and have addressed the council frequently.

Silverbell West is in unincorporated Pima County. While it's not far from the full utility services afforded Marana citizens, Silverbell West residents rely on propane for heat and septic tanks for waste disposal. Rohlik and her family have been there 21 years, Ruppelius and her family 20 years, the Storzers 13. "You can see billions of stars," he said.

Ruppelius wanted a place to have horses, open space, no congestion, no pollution. Her family began in a 10- by 52-foot travel trailer, and today lives in a 3,000-square-foot home.

"We're going to have this huge dump now," she said. "It's discouraging, everything I have worked so hard to establish, that these people can come in and encroach on. It hasn't been easy."

"It's all sweat equity," Rohlik agreed. "It's blue-collar, hard-working families, raising kids. Those of us who have worked, who have improved our properties, you're taking a lot from us."

They've already concluded their homes would lose value when a landfill is constructed.

"None of us can sell our place once the dump goes in," said Rohlik.

Ruppelius and Rohlik perceive consistent deception on the part of DKL Holdings and its supporters. "We're pissed because the deception never stops," Rohlik said. "We don't have that kind of money to match their flipping carrots."

"I don't want anything from these guys," Storzer said. "I just don't want the dump there."

"If it's something good, it sells itself," Rohlik said.

Behind the scenes, and in front of them, former Pima County Supervisor Ron Asta, general manager of the civil engineering firm CPE Consultants, who in the past worked for the developers of the competing Durham Landfill in Pinal County as well as John Kai, brother of vice mayor and landfill site property owner Herb Kai, has helped organize the fight against the Marana Regional Landfill.

Asta has been "instrumental in helping us get the right information from the right people," Ruppelius said. "He's been a very integral part of our group."

But, she emphasized, "we decide, he does not decide" the group's direction. "We take what he says with a grain of salt. We know he has his own agenda."

While the conversation unfolded last Saturday morning outside Starbucks, a woman walked up to the table. She'd been handed a flier "that is very pro" landfill, and began to ask questions about the proposal.

"This is a helluva battle we're up against," Rohlik told her. "It's very scary."

Over the years, people in Silverbell West have talked about annexation into Marana.

"There are pros and cons," Storzer said. "We haven't taken it beyond talking about it."

"We all have thought we were part of Marana," Ruppelius said. "Our kids go to the school." But, she believes, town government has not "really considered us part of Marana."

Through the landfill fight, "we've met people, had this not come up, we never would have met," Rohlik said. "Most people mind our own business, do our own thing."

"That's why we moved out there," Ruppelius said.

"We sit on our porch in rocking chairs and chew tobacco," Storzer said. "We spit on our own property, not our neighbors' property."

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