PORT CLINTON — An Ottawa County judge has been asked to decide if zoning laws can be used to intervene in a landmark case in which a developer wants to fill in an abandoned quarry with spent lime and other residue generated by the treatment process at Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.
Judge Bruce Winters of Ottawa County Common Pleas Court heard oral arguments Tuesday and will consider written briefs today before issuing his ruling.
Drone images that residents in Benton Township believe show Rocky Ridge Development LLC putting spent lime and other residuals from Toledo’s water treatment plant into an abandoned quarry near them.
The plan has been put forward by Rocky Ridge Development LLC against the objections of many residents and officials in Ottawa County’s Benton Township. The case is a civil lawsuit over zoning issues.
Last month, township officials got work suspended by obtaining a temporary restraining order. The Rocky Ridge quarry is the former StoneCo quarry on State Rt. 590.
The lawsuit names Rocky Ridge, Custom Ecology of Ohio, and an affiliated company, Stansley Industries.
The city of Toledo approved an $8.5 million contract last year with Custom Ecology to remove spent lime from a lagoon near its Collins Park Water Treatment Plant. Stansley has an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency permit to reuse the spent lime — once mixed with soil — at the former quarry. Rocky Ridge has applied for a permit to eventually fill the quarry with the blended material.
Defense attorney Matthew Harper argued in court that the township had cited Rocky Ridge for “mushy” zoning violations, and that local governmental action should not be allowed to supersede the state authorization given by the Ohio EPA.
The lawsuit was prompted not by violations, Mr. Harpen said, but because of citizen opposition to the proposed burial of spent lime.
Attorney Robert Casarona countered that the permit doesn’t mean local zoning ordinances can be ignored.
“They just need to do it in a properly zoned area,” Mr. Casarona said on behalf of the township.
The original complaint discussed a 20-acre pond being dug on the property. But that issue was set aside for the preliminary injunction, because Rocky Ridge has stopped digging and has requested zoning certification for the pond.
Instead, the focus of Tuesday’s hearing was whether work being done in parts of the property violate zoning and need a special-use permit.
Those called to testify included Benton Township zoning inspector Mike Reif; Ottawa County Engineer Ron Lajt; Ottawa County Regional Planning Commission Director Mark Messa, and Oak Harbor Mayor Joe Helle.
Several said John Taddonio, Rocky Ridge Development manager, told them in a meeting he believed the entire property had been zoned as industrial, allowing excavating work to be done on site.
Parts of the property were designated agricultural to create a buffer between the quarry and nearby homes.
Mr. Reif said he saw work done on the property that appeared industrial, with large trucks hauling soil, and machinery operating in the agricultural area. Mr. Helle was hired by area residents to take pictures of the work site using a drone.
Defense attorneys tried to portray Mr. Reif as an activist opposed to the project.
Mr. Reif, who has an obligation to remain impartial in his duties as a zoning inspector, lives near the quarry.
“Your objection to the pond and this activity is not based on the position of zoning inspector, but that you don’t like that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approved this,” Mr. Harper said.
The Ohio EPA had asked to intervene, arguing the court did not have authority to adjudicate its permitting authority. Judge Winters rejected the state agency’s motion, saying the matter before him would be limited to the zoning issues raised by the township and county.
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