For nearly all of 2010, people have deluged the Marana Town Council with facts, opinions, emotions, protests and demonstrations about the Marana Regional Landfill.
The council’s time to speak came last Wednesday, just before it voted 5-1 to approve a rezoning and development agreement for the DKL Holdings landfill.
When the moment came, members of the governing board shed honest light upon the difficulties, anxieties and frustrations of their decisions.
“As a community leader, I have to make decisions I sometimes don’t want to make, but I have to do them for the good of my community,” Councilman Jon Post said. “As badly as I want to make a ‘no’ vote, for my neighbors, I have to make a vote for my community at large, all of them.”
“This is not an easy decision,” Councilwoman Patti Comerford said. It’s one that has awakened her at 3:30 a.m., asking “what am I going to do, what am I going to do?
“That’s what you elect us for, to make the hard decisions,” she said. “This is one of the hardest decisions to make. I do take to heart people’s lives are affected all the way around.”
Councilman Russell Clanagan, acknowledging the potential political consequences of his decision, told the audience he would vote for the proposal because “I think this landfill’s good for my community, and that’s the reason I’m voting for it.”
“This is not a decision made loosely or carelessly,” Mayor Ed Honea said. It’s made “with a lot of thought and a lot of reason.”
“For a long time, I was very opposed, emotionally mostly, watching my friends and neighbors get up and speak,” Post said. He allowed that he’d ignored phone calls from Michael Racy, DKL’s representative.
When the development agreement was presented to the council, “I saw some things in there … that piqued my interest.” Post then looked at the Pinal County development agreement regarding the proposed Durham Landfill, just north of Marana. “There’s a big difference,” he said.
“This is a decision not on one landfill, but two,” Post said. If the Marana Regional Landfill is not approved, “we’ll get handed Durham, which honestly would be a mess for our community. Almost everything verbatim in opposition to the Marana landfill, that landfill has a problem with.”
Comerford said she’d asked Town Attorney Frank Cassidy if the decision could be given to the voters. It could not. “The only allowance is through referendum,” Comerford said. “That is an option, that opens it up to everyone, and everyone having a say.”
Comerford knows there is discomfort with Vice Mayor Herb Kai’s role in the proposal. Kai, who recused himself from the decision-making process, owns the ground upon which DKL Holdings would build its landfill.
“I’ll be the first to tell you, that’s nothing new for him coming from me,” she said. “Many times,” Kai has “brought issues to this town that make decisions like this a very difficult one.”
But, Comerford said, “there is an appearance of impropriety that’s not there.” And, she said, “he has been continually re-elected overwhelmingly by this community. The voters have said overwhelmingly they want him on this council.”
Clanagan said he’s met with opponents of the proposal. He also found hydrologists at the Oro Valley Water Summit, and spoke with them about the threat of a landfill to groundwater. His concerns were eased.
When Clanagan shared the opinion expressed by landfill opponents that the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality would rubber-stamp a landfill, an ADEQ hydrologist “almost took offense to what I said,” Clanagan said. “’Absolutely not,’” the hydrologist replied.
The safety of the community is utmost.
Clanagan criticized the opponents for boycotting a key meeting early on that might have allowed exchange of ideas.
“Here we are, seven, eight, nine months later, and the opposition group, and I certainly respect your position, gives us the same information we got in January, February, March,” Clanagan said. ‘No matter what, you oppose the landfill. I asked you to sit with the developer, and see if you can come up with common ground. ‘No.’ Sitting down does not mean you agree with it.”
At Clanagan’s church, a geologist said the landfill conversation has focused on the “politics, rather than the science of this issue. Would I take into consideration the science over the politics?” he was asked.
Clanagan said the council has been told repeatedly there are political ramifications to its decision. Clanagan himself is coming up for election. “That’s me,” he said.
After a long career in law enforcement, Clanagan ran because “I knew I had something to offer. I don’t run from a fight. I’m not intimidated. I’m not concerned about your group opposing my election. I intend to vote for (the landfill). If that costs me my job, so be it.”
“It sounds like Councilman Clanagan is starting his speech for re-election from the dais,” Councilwoman Roxanne Zeigler said.
Councilwoman Carol McGorray, ultimately the lone vote against it, told the huge crowd “I raised my children in Avra Valley.” They drank sweet water from a 700-foot well. “It tasted so good.
“I value the lifestyle out there, in Avra Valley, and I know it’s not in Marana,” McGorray said. “I do not think this is a proper site.”
“This has been a very tough time for all of us,” said Honea, who’s been on the council for 23 years, and said later Wednesday the landfill decision was the most difficult of his career.
“I tried to put everything in perspective,” weighing science and emotion. “People are passionate. They are all good people. There are no bad people here. We have differing opinions.”
He received letters of support from Cottonwood Properties developer David Mehl, from the developers of Gladden Farms, from the chamber and from Doug Wilson, superintendent of the Marana Unified School District.
Honea’s father, brother and other family members live in Honea Heights, the Marana neighborhood closest to the landfill site. They support the project.
Honea’s family has run a water company for 40 years, down gradient from the Tangerine Landfill. “We have never had a bad water sample ever because of that landfill,” Honea said. Two bad samples were the result of effluent in the Santa Cruz River, a circumstance Honea believes is “a much bigger threat to our community than that landfill.”
“Will it generate some money? Sure. Will it make us rich? No. Is it a public amenity? Yes. I look at a landfill as an amenity,” the mayor said.
The opponents see it otherwise.
After the vote, consistent and vocal critic Albert Lannon of Picture Rocks, wearing a red shirt that said “The Red Menace Returns” on the back of it, yelled to the council before departing.
“Shame on you,” he said.