Landfill record is decisive

Many West Virginians share a deep love for our rugged, beautiful environment. We get angry when it is abused. We are suspicious of those we fear may damage it.

So what happened Tuesday in Ohio County was interesting. It also should be instructive to executives in some types of businesses.

One item on the ballot for Ohio County voters was a referendum on the Short Creek Landfill. The question was whether the facility should be permitted to accept as much as 50,000 tons of solid waste each month. The current limit is 30,000 tons, so the request was for a substantial increase.

More than 77 percent of those casting ballots voted in favor of the new limit. It was approved in a 4,767-1,690 victory, according to unofficial election returns.

Most organizations and people asking for voters’ support would be delighted with a three-to-one win.

Officials of Republic Services, which owns the landfill, should be pleased. Think about it: Disposal of solid waste sometimes is not thought of as a “green” industry. In some places, residents battle for years against landfill operators who do not take adequate precautions against odor, water pollution and other environmental hazards.

And when a new or expanded landfill is suggested in many places, opposition mobilizes quickly. I know of a few places there that has happened – and those concerned about such plans often have good reasons. Frequently they’re based on experience.

That brings us to the instructive part of what happened Tuesday. The Short Creek Landfill has been in operation for many years. During that time I have not heard of a single complaint about it. Republic and others who have owned the facility seem to take their responsibilities seriously.

So, when Republic appealed to local voters, the company had a track record on which to rely. That paid off.

Not all businesses operate that way. In the past, some companies in mining, logging, chemicals, oil and gas and yes, landfills have not been as conscientious. Others in the same industries have paid a price for that in suspicion among West Virginians and our elected representatives. Sometimes they complain about environmental rules they consider unnecessarily rigid.

Often, they’re right. The rules are tighter than necessary. But they were written and supported by people whose experience suggested some companies in some industries simply couldn’t be trusted to do the right thing. Unfortunately, good, responsible people in some companies pay a price for the bad apples.

Here, whether that happened was up to the voters of Ohio County, not rule-makers in Charleston or Washington. And our experience with the local landfill has been good.

Republic’s experience, including the Tuesday referendum, ought to be a lesson, then: Be responsible concerning the environment and honest with Mountain State residents – and it will pay off in the end.