After a 13-month feud and two lawsuits, the city of Wendover is caught in a financial tug-of-war with a local couple over a $300,000 a year industrial waste disposal contract.
Although each side has sued the other, neither currently owns the contract. And the fight for ownership is heating up.It started last July when Donna and Dennis McBride, who run the city landfill, entered into a verbal agreement to accept salt cake, a byproduct of aluminum recycling, from Imsamet, a Post Falls, Idaho, company.
In May 1990, the city council prohibited the McBrides from accepting salt cake after Myron Bateman, Tooele County environmental health supervisor, tested the salt cake and found it high in selenium, which he said could classify it as hazardous material.
But three weeks later, the city entered into negotiations with Imsamet to develop a storage and recycling plant for the salt cake. By mid-June, Wendover and Im-samet came close to sealing a deal that would open an 80-acre industrial-waste landfill adjacent to the current site.
The McBrides cried foul and sued the city.
The couple won one round when 3rd District Judge Frank Noel, citing sample tests taken by Bateman, ruled there was no substantial evidence to classify salt cake as hazardous waste.
Noel said the city could not forbid the McBrides from accepting the salt cake and extended an injunction that prevented Wendover from entering into a contract with Imsamet.
But for the McBrides, the ruling was moot.
The Bureau of Land Management, which owns the landfill property and leases it to the city, was not convinced the material was safe. The agency has prohibited the McBrides from accepting salt cake until it is proven safe "beyond a shadow of a doubt" and threatened to cancel the lease if salt cake is found in the landfill.
The McBrides contend county health officials and city council members exaggerated the seriousness of the hazardous-waste issue so the city could grab the lucrative business.
"The city is in serious financial trouble, and once they saw it was a moneymaking business, they put a lot of obstacles in our way," said Donna McBride. "The bottom line is they never cared if it was hazardous or not. They just wanted the money for themselves. To them, it's a question of money, not a question of the health issue."
But City Attorney Doug White said Wendover officials never actively pursued a contract with Imsamet and only prohibited the McBrides from accepting the material because of the possible health risks.
"Imsamet contacted us and asked us to find a place to store the salt cake after we told the McBrides they couldn't accept it," he said. "We never tried to steal the contract from the McBrides. It just turned out that Imsa-met came to us. We just tried to help them out."
Left without a place to store the salt cake, Imsamet turned to Wendover businessman Dave Shelton, who owns a local coal yard. Bateman issued a one-year storage permit for Shelton to stockpile 10,000 tons of salt cake on property near the city airport.
The question of whether the material is hazardous remains central to the controversy.
While Bateman has tested and analyzed it dozens of times, he said there isn't sufficient data to say whether it's safe.
"But I feel a lot better about storing it on the Shelton property because they have the proper zoning, and with them, it's a temporary thing," he said.
Wendover is attempting to purchase land from the BLM for another landfill site to store the salt cake. But BLM officials said the city is still one year away from acquiring the site.
For the McBrides, meantime, the feud has gone beyond economics.
"Since the turmoil began, the landfill has been sabotaged numerous times and my husband has received death threats," Mrs. McBride said. "Someone is trying to run us out of town."