Decision time - The Explorer: Editorials

Decision time

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

This writer chooses not to take a position on whether the Marana Town Council should approve a zoning change that would allow a large commercial landfill for municipal and residential waste in West Marana.

It is, however, time to decide, as the town council is expected to do at its meeting next Tuesday, Aug. 17, in what promises to be a very tense council chambers.

The issue has been before town government, its planning commission and the town council since January, when Vice Mayor Herb Kai shared the proposal, received a warm response from his colleagues, and properly recused himself moving forward because DKL Holdings would build the landfill on his ground north of Avra Valley Road.

Since then, the subject has either dominated just about every council meeting, or occupied time given to the public for comment. A wealth of information has been generated, and opinions expressed. It's time to move ahead.

Kai is but one of the players in a turbulent subject that has taught people more than they ever wanted to know about aquifers, plastic membranes, evaporation rates, and 100-year flood events. Kai has put his colleagues on the town council in a very difficult position, one they accepted when they pursued the office, but a tangle nonetheless. None of us wants to be sitting on the Marana Town Council right now.

Beyond Herb Kai, think about some of the other folks involved, to include:

• DKL Holdings' Larry Henk, a veteran of the waste hauling and landfill business, who's spent a pile of money on engineering and environmental analysis, advertising, travel and much more. He's convinced this landfill can be safe and beneficial, and that it won't mar the rising aquifer below. He has put forward a remarkable list of benefits – host fee payments to the town and the school district, an overlay of Avra Valley Road, roadside trash pickup from I-10 all the way along Avra Valley Road to the landfill site, insurance policies for any environmental degradation. Nobody has ever offered Marana more for the permission to do business. It's a bounty of "carrots," as the opponents have labeled them;

• Michael Racy, hired by Henk to represent the proposal in meetings and negotiations. Racy, among Arizona's most experienced, skilled government liaisons and lobbyists, understands more about the process toward approval than anyone else, and is able to answer nearly every query. He's done work for the Marana Town Council. He's done work for Pima County. He may find himself in complicated positions, yet can always make his point;

• The opponents, among them the residents of Silverbell West, a long-ago wildcat subdivision that's outside the town limits, but inside the council chambers just about every week. They don't want the landfill that would sit within a mile of their homes. They're blue-collar, working people, raising families, fearful of the effects an industrial project would have on their homes and lives. Their passion, their determination, their energy has been laudable in what people characterize as a David v. Goliath sort of episode.

There are many other players, too, far more than can be mentioned here. There are more letters to the editor than can be published here, too.

Here are truths, from this seat. America needs landfills. Modern landfills are not the kind you went to with Dad on Saturdays. Recycling is prominent, and expanding. Landfills are enormous, and enormous business. They present clear economic benefits for business and government, and clear worries for neighbors. They are highly, intensively, expensively regulated. Northwest Tucson, and in fact the greater region, could certainly benefit by less-expensive access to a place to put trash.

The question before the council — is this the place? Is this the project?

One last observation. Almost throughout, emotional people have been civil with one another in their public dealings. Such public grace is greatly appreciated. May it continue next Tuesday, when the council may make a 50-year, and beyond, decision about its community's future.

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