Residents suing Cass County officials about how officials conducted business for a zinc reclamation plant won’t need to put up a multi-million dollar bond.
Miami County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Spahr ruled on Monday that the suit is not a “public suit” that benefits the public overall but one protecting the private interests of the four people who filed it.
And those people won’t have to put up a bond, which would be used to pay for potential costs for WSP’s delays in construction.
The four who filed the suit — Patricia Razer, Robert McDaniel, Leroy Miller and Melissa Harrison — live within two miles of the Cass County Agri-Business Park near Clymers.
That’s where the Waelz Sustainable Products [WSP] plant is being built.
An email from Logansport attorney Jim Brugh stated that lead from smokestacks, which is a concern for those opposing the plant, falls to the ground in two to three miles, far from testing stations set up in Logansport.
Spahr mentioned lead and its effects on children in his ruling.
Brugh and Royal Center attorney John Schwarz argued that this is not a public lawsuit because those four are directly affected by what could come out of the proposed plant if it starts operating.
“They’re protecting their own private interests,” Brugh said in May, after Spahr heard arguments from both sides.
One has been affected already by the construction dust, he said then.
The suit the four filed names the Cass County Council and the Cass County Redevelopment Commission as defendants.
“Residents seeking to protect their health and value of their property sued Cass County government, arguing that government’s decisions made behind closed doors denied them the chance to press for stricter pollution monitoring and controls,” according to a press release from the attorneys.
“This gives the residents the right to argue that the County created a secret ‘WSP Incentive Committee’ that triggered the County Council’s vote in favor of $17 million of TIF bonds and $70 million in conduit bonds, all for the benefit of WSP,” the press release continued.
The suit is now a consolidation of two suits the residents filed, and both claim the county did not follow open door laws that require government transparency when working towards an economic development agreement [EDA] between the county the WSP to make incentives to build the plant.
The combined suits state that on Sept. 16, Cass County elected and appointed officials met with WSP representatives to work out details for safety and testing at the plant.
That Cass WSP incentive committee was not officially formed at any government meetings, and the Cass County Council stipulated at an Aug. 21 meeting that WSP and representatives of the Cass County Citizens Coalition [CCCC] should negotiate.
The CCCC members had met with WSP, but they weren’t informed of the meeting.
The second part claims the county made a premeditated attempt to limit the number of citizens that could attend a Sept. 18 county council meeting.
That meeting happened when the pandemic limited the number of people who could attend a meeting in the Cass County Commissioners’ meeting room.
The suit alleges that county officials admitted select people from WSP representatives and from Dilling Construction, which worked on plant construction, before the doors were opened and citizens were allowed in.
So it limited citizen participation and input, the suit claims.
The Indiana statute of public lawsuit describes it as pertaining to “a public improvement by a municipal corporation,” such as a school district, a county government or a city government.
Spahr wrote that it is important to ensure that that law “is not applied to cases in an overbroad fashion so as to slam the courthouse door on cases that do have merit.”
Brugh has said that the public lawsuit designation is usually filed in cases that deal with school bonds or water plant construction.
Putting a public lawsuit designation and bond is “kind of a way to make these lawsuits go away,” he said.
Attorneys from Ice Miller of Indianapolis, which is representing Cass County in the suits, requested the suit be designated a public one.
A spokesman for WSP has said the company doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation it’s not involved in.
Only Cass County is named as a defendant in the suit.
WSP has been building a plant on the site, 3440 West County Road 300 South, for more than a year.
The plant still needs a clean air permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management [IDEM] to start operating.
That permit is at the stage where IDEM submitted it to the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] on May 3 for a required 45-day review period.
The EPA is set to announce on June 17 whether or not it will object to the proposed clean air permit, which will set rules for what WSP is able to emit through its smokestacks.