Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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ANSWERS: CLARK COUNTY:

Standoff over landfill closure possible

Republic Services hasn’t said publicly that Clark County must help pay for the cost of closing Sunrise Landfill — a position with which the county disagrees.

In fact, the company’s area president, Bob Coyle, said last week he wasn’t aware of any dispute between the county and Republic on the issue.

Is he telling the truth?

Not unless he hasn’t been reading his attorney’s letters to the county.

Turns out that Republic is paying one of Nevada’s largest law firms — Kummer Kaempfer Bonner Renshaw & Ferrario — to pressure the county to pitch in.

In a March 7 letter, attorney Mark Ferrario told the county’s attorneys: “It is our belief that given the language in the various agreements discussed herein, Republic is entitled to recoup Cleanup Costs associated with the Sunrise Mountain Landfill.”

Of course, that position is the exact opposite of an opinion county attorneys issued in November that concluded Republic is fully responsible for cleaning up and closing the dump, based on a 1999 deal in which Republic’s lucrative garbage collection contract with the county was extended 15 years, to 2035.

Ferrario, however, lays out a complicated argument involving the 1999 deal and two agreements from 15 years ago. Those older agreements are referenced in the 1999 deal and use phrases such as: “Republic is entitled to recover its costs for closure of the Sunrise Regional Landfill.”

County spokesman Dan Kulin said he didn’t think there had been any written exchanges between the two sides on the issue since.

So are we heading for a standoff?

Maybe. You’ll recall that Republic had asked county commissioners to add a 2.2 percent “environmental surcharge” to residents’ garbage bills to help pay for the remaining work at Sunrise. But that was a year ago, and neither residents nor most commissioners have shown any appetite for such an arrangement.

The scope of the remaining work — an estimated $36 million worth — would be enshrined in a federal consent decree that commissioners will consider this week. That agreement puts responsibility for funding and finishing the project on Republic, but also says such language in the consent decree can’t be used by either party in future litigation regarding who should pay for the work. Republic officials say they haven’t decided yet whether to sign the consent decree.

In short, it’s difficult to tell what will happen next, but a legal showdown may be on the horizon.

Speaking of the landfill, what ever happened with the county’s landfill attorney?

Commissioners will be taking up that issue this week, too.

Scott Gordon is the California attorney the county hired in the late 1990s to advise it on Sunrise Landfill issues.

The Sun revealed in October that Gordon also had been working for Republic Services in California since 2000. That came as a surprise to commissioners, some of whom saw Gordon’s dual roles as a conflict of interest.

Then in November the county decided to amend Gordon’s $83,200 contract to waive the conflict and ensure that Gordon represents the county — not Republic — in discussions with the EPA about the consent decree. The amendment also says Gordon will avoid any involvement with the surcharge issue.

But before amending Gordon’s contract, the county asked him to get an opinion from the California Bar Association about whether the amendment was the appropriate way to handle the potential conflict. Thus, his contract was never amended.

That was almost six months ago. Why did it take until this week to bring the amendment back before commissioners?

According to the county, Gordon went to the California bar in November, but the association told him it could take up to a year to issue an opinion. So he asked the Los Angeles County bar for an opinion. The L.A. bar took two months to tell him it would not issue an opinion because the issue was too narrow to be useful to other bar members.

In the end, Gordon hired a legal ethics attorney to advise him about the propriety of the amendment. That attorney gave Gordon an opinion on April 11, basically saying the proposed amendment was fine.

It then took a few weeks to get the amendment on the county commission agenda.

The amendment will be considered the same day as the consent decree. If commissioners approve the consent decree, the amendment to Gordon’s contract won’t mean much, because his work will pretty much be completed.

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