Landfill drops lawsuit against community activists

Published 6:27 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Owners of a Uniontown landfill have dropped a $30 million defamation lawsuit filed against four community activists who voiced concerns about coal ash.

The lawsuit was filed by Green Group Holdings, who owns Arrowhead Landfill, in April of last year. It alleged that members of the Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice made “false, defamatory and misleading” statements about the landfill’s business operations.

“It’s a relief,” said Ben Eaton, vice president of Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice and one of the four activists. “More so for family members than anyone else. Family was worried about it even if maybe some of the members that were being sued weren’t as worried, but it’s a big relief just to take the pressure off them if nothing else.”

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The lawsuit was dropped after a settlement was reached between both sides. The American Civil Liberties Union represented Eaton and three other activists, Ellis Long, Mary Schaeffer and Esther Calhoun.

“No one should have to fear a multi-million-dollar lawsuit just for speaking up about their community – but our clients did,” said senior ACLU staff attorney Lee Rowland. “Fortunately, as they do in the face of all injustice, our clients fought back. This settlement reaffirms our clients’ – and everyone’s – constitutional right to speak out and fight for our health and justice in their community.”

Green Group Holdings agreed to drop the lawsuit and committed to discussing future issues with the community through dialogue first before litigation. The landfill owners also agreed to notify the public before receiving any hazardous waste and to use standards approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to seal off future shipments of coal ash.

According to the ACLU, the Uniontown landfill took in “millions of cubic yards” of coal ash in 2009 after a spill in Tennessee.

Eaton said the BBCFHJ recognizes the settlement and dismissal of the lawsuit as a victory, but there is still a long way to go as far as environmental issues go in Uniontown.

Mary Schaeffer, one of the other activists that were named in the lawsuit, said the town is still dealing with issues regarding the landfill, the city’s wastewater treatment and a cheese plant.

“We don’t have the lawsuit, but we still have the problems that we had,” she said. “We haven’t really solved any problems so far, but we are not going to give up either. We are going to keep working on them and hope that some solutions will be forthcoming over time.”

The BBCFJH has also been vocal about ongoing sewer issues involving the city’s sewage collection system that has deteriorated over time. Schaeffer said the group will continue to voice their concerns and fight for what they believe is right.