Pointing out that the law grants the Franklin County Commission “wide latitude” to make legislative decisions it feels are in the best interest of the people who elected them, a judge ruled in favor of Franklin County and Ameren Missouri in a lawsuit challenging the proposed construction of a coal ash landfill in Labadie.
Moments after Associate Circuit Court Judge Robert D. Schollmeyer issued his ruling Friday morning, plaintiffs in the case vowed to appeal the decision.
“We do intend to take it up on appeal,” Labadie resident and Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) member Amy Bonsall said.
LEO and a group of Labadie property owners sued the commission in November 2011 one month after the county commission voted 2-1 to amend its land use regulations to allow for utility landfills, which would enable Ameren to build a coal ash landfill adjacent to its power plant in the Labadie bottoms.
Friday’s decision came after the commission and the county’s planning and zoning commission held a number of public hearings on the landfill. Most of those hearings were contentious as opponents and supporters of Ameren debated a number of issues related to the landfill, including whether it should be located in a floodplain.
Schollmeyer previously dismissed five of six counts in the lawsuit which was originally filed against the commission. He later allowed Ameren to intervene in the case.
Schollmeyer’s ruling stated that the county’s zoning amendment allowing utility landfills was legal and supported by the evidence in the record. He also ruled that coal ash deposited in a facility meeting the county’s zoning amendment would not create a risk to public health or drinking water sources, and there was no indication of any exposure of any toxic components of coal ash to the environment.
Prior to announcing his ruling before a packed courtroom that included approximately 25 LEO members, Schollmeyer explained how he reached his decision. He said he understood the positions both sides in the case were taking.
“I understand that Ameren is in the business to make money and the people who are challenging this are concerned about the well-being of those who live near the plant,” Schollmeyer said. “But some of what I’m going to say is going to sound like a sixth-grade civics lesson, but the when it comes to legislative action, the law gives the Franklin County Commission wide latitude to make decisions that are in the best interests of the people who elect them.”
Schollmeyer also said that unless the commission’s decision was so “outrageous,” it wasn’t his place to take the place of the commission. He said there were scientific experts on both sides of the landfill debate who had reached different conclusions. He acknowledged that if he was on the commission he might have come to a different decision.
Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer called Friday’s ruling “sweet vindication” but added that he doubted if the litigation over the landfill was over.
“Obviously I’m ecstatic,” Griesheimer said after Friday’s hearing. “It (the decision) vindicates everything we did and tried to do to protect and ensure the health of the people in the county while still trying to protect the interests of the power plant. The environmental group’s ultimate goal, although they won’t come out and say it, is to shut the plant down. It’s a victory for the county but I doubt if it’s the end of this issue.”
LEO President, Patricia Schuba said she was disappointed in the ruling.
“Who do people go to for protection?” she asked after the hearing. “We can’t go to the commission. We can’t go to the Legislature.”