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    Citizens group will continue effort to remove Russell County board chair despite vote halting landfill negotiations

    By Susan Cameron,


    The day after Russell County leaders voted to stop negotiating an agreement with the developer of a proposed private landfill that nobody seemed to want, a leader of a citizens group that opposed the project said the group will move forward with efforts to oust the board of supervisors’ chair.

    Members of the group, We Say No to Moss 3 landfill, have been gathering signatures on a petition to remove Steve Breeding from the board, and that effort will move forward despite Breeding’s vote Monday night to halt negotiations on the project, Amy Branson, one of the group’s leaders, said in an email Tuesday.
    Amy Branson speaks after the Russell County Board of Supervisors votes to end negotiations on agreement with proposed landfill developer. Photo by Susan Cameron.

    She did not answer a follow-up question or a request for an interview. Breeding could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

    For more than six months, the group has been fighting the proposed landfill, packing board meetings, where many spoke out passionately against the project. Members of the group also picketed at a number of recent events, including Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s listening tour in March and an economic forum last month at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

    They also placed signs with messages like “Do You Smell That? Well, You May Soon” all over the county in recent months and raised money by selling camo T-shirts that featured a slogan used by the United Mine Workers during the Pittston Coal strike in 1989-90. The shirts say “Overcome Evil with Good” with the word landfill circled in yellow and crossed out in the middle.

    The site for the proposed landfill is the Moss No. 3 mine in Carbo, a prep plant where one of the most important demonstrations of the strike took place. Members of the UMWA have also spoken out against the project and attended several board meetings.

    About 1,200 acres at the site is owned by businessman John Matney, who owns Russell County Reclamation and has been working for years to clean up the site. However, about 118 million tons of waste coal remains on the site, county officials have said.

    Matney’s company, Nova Co. of Virginia, in February filed a notice of intent to submit a solid waste permit application to establish a landfill in Russell County with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ requested a lot of additional documents, including a host agreement with the county, which is what the company and the county have been negotiating since August 2023.

    To the surprise and delight of about 300 people who turned out for a Monday night meeting of the board of supervisors in Lebanon, the board voted to end negotiations, saying it had concluded that the talks could not be successful. The board also said that Nova recently proposed new terms that are “adverse” to the interests of Russell County and didn’t include important information including how much the county would be paid through a host fee.

    Asked for a response to the decision Tuesday, Matney said he would not have a statement at this time.

    He proposed the project at a time when the county is strapped for money due to mandated teacher raises, increased jail costs and a host of other hikes, according to County Administrator Lonzo Lester.

    It also came when the county’s choices for places to take its trash were shrinking and costs rising. For years, Russell County, like other localities in the area, took its trash to the Bristol landfill, until that facility closed in September 2022 due to ongoing odor issues. Russell County now trucks its waste to a facility in Blountville, Tennessee, which Lester said earlier is expensive and “the only game in town.”

    In addition to a host fee, the county was expected to get a break on costs for its own waste.

    While the board of supervisors met behind closed doors in executive session Monday night, Branson brought those in the crowd up to date on the effort to remove Breeding. She said 113 voter signatures are needed on the petition and 170 have been collected. She added that the signatures must be certified as registered voters, so the plan is to collect 100 more than needed.

    According to the petition, the grounds for Breeding’s removal are: failing to review county ordinances prior to starting negotiations for an unpermitted landfill; violating open-door meeting requirements; failing to secure confidential business negotiation documents; failing to include Supervisor Lou Ann Wallace, who also serves on the  landfill committee, in host agreement negotiations; failing to adhere to the recommendations of the environmental consultant hired to advise the county on host agreement negotiations; and ignoring the will and wishes of the constituents he was elected to represent.

    Breeding, who represents District 5, was appointed board chair in January.
    Steve Breeding. Photo by Susan Cameron.

    Several in the audience who thanked board members for their decision said they were surprised that Breeding had voted to halt talks with Matney. At one point, Breeding said it wasn’t how he’d wanted to vote.

    The Russell County residents seeking to oust Breeding face an uphill battle, because Virginia law — except in a few localities — requires that recall petitions go before a judge, and a judge can only remove an elected official in the case of certain crimes, or neglect, misuse of the office or incompetence.

    Ballotpedia lists more than two dozen recall drives in Virginia over the past decade, but none has succeeded in getting a judge to remove an official.

    To proceed at all, the petition must be signed by at least 10% of the number of people who voted in the last election for the office being recalled.

    The petition must then be filed with the court clerk, who gives a copy to the official named on the petition as well as to the commonwealth’s attorney and the general registrar.

    The registrar determines whether the petition meets the standards of the State Board of Elections and has the correct number of valid signatures. If it does, the clerk certifies it within 10 business days and then files the certification with the clerk of circuit court.

    The commonwealth’s attorney then decides whether there are valid grounds to remove the official. If so, the circuit court is notified. Otherwise, the attorney would request that the petition be dismissed.

    If there are sufficient grounds for removal, a trial is held. If there is sufficient evidence at trial that removal is warranted, the official is removed from office, according to the code.

    Members of the citizens group said they will remain vigilant in the future, and they plan to start pushing for an ordinance that bans landfills in the county.
    Opponents of the proposed Russell County landfill joined those protesting small modular nuclear reactors last month outside the Southwest Virginia Economic Forum at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. Photo by Dwayne Yancey.

    The post Citizens group will continue effort to remove Russell County board chair despite vote halting landfill negotiations appeared first on Cardinal News .

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