Controversial Dallas Garbage Measure Struck Down

Haulers filed lawsuit over ordinance that required them to take all garbage to McCommas Bluff Landfill

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A Dallas ordinance that would have brought more money to the city and more trash to one city landfill has been struck down by a judge after neighbors complained. (Published Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012)

    A permanent federal injunction now blocks Dallas from enforcing a controversial measure that would force all of the city's garbage to be taken to the McCommas Bluff Landfill.

    Private commercial waste haulers and landfill neighbors were furious about the "flow control" ordinance that would have doubled truck traffic at the landfill.

    Students from nearby Paul Quinn College wearing T-shirts labeled with the words “we are not trash” jammed City Council chambers when the measure was approved in a sharply divided vote on Sept. 28, 2011.

    City officials sold the plan to the public as a way to preserve what could be a valuable resource in the future when evolving technologies could make better use of garbage. But Mayor Mike Rawlings said it was essentially a revenue-producing plan when he voted in favor of the measure that day.

    Haulers who currently take their trash to landfills outside the city sued to stop the ordinance, complaining that the longer driving distance and higher fees to use the Dallas landfill would cost more.

    "They had to absorb some of those costs, and some of those costs would have been passed on to the citizens of the city of Dallas, so consumers in the city of Dallas would have been ultimately harmed by this," said Jim Harris, the haulers' attorney.

    The haulers also argued that their existing franchise agreements to operate in the city allow them the right to choose where they take the trash.

    "That right was being taken away from us, and that's the irreparable injury," Harris said.

    U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor supported the haulers' key lawsuit claims and granted on Tuesday the permanent injunction blocking the measure.

    The judge ruled the city's ordinance violates both the U.S. and Texas constitutions and the Dallas City Charter.

    To help satisfy unhappy neighbors when the ordinance was passed last year, the city added a $1 million neighborhood development fund that would be paid for with money from the extra landfill fees, which now will not be available.

    Councilman Tennell Atkins voted in favor of the ordinance partly because of the opportunity to help the area, which had rallied together against it.

    Now Atkins said the city will still provide other support to help the neighborhood improve.

    "This was a good thing," he said. "It's kind of forced the community to say, 'Hey, this is my community. This don't work. We've still got other options."

    Michael Sorrell, Paul Quinn College president, said he hopes all sides can find a compromise.

    City spokesman Jose Luis Torres issued the following statement:

    The City remains committed to implementing an effective and sustainable long range solid waste plan. Such plan includes the expanded use of emerging technologies and renewable energy sources, and the commitment to increases in recycling and re-use alternatives. These goals are of strategic importance to the City's commitment to manage its solid waste in an environmentally progressive and financially sound manner for the benefit of all Dallas residents. The City is disappointed in the District Court's decision and will assess its appellate options.

    More: Read the judge's ruling