While emotional legal and public relations battles swirl, the first small section of a potentially huge landfill is moving to completion near this city of 1,270.

Harold Marston, one of six owners of East Carbon Development Corp., expects to be ready to begin receiving waste shipments by mid-August.Initial shipments will come from northern Utah County. The developers are looking for other customers including industries producing non-hazardous waste and public installations and even national parks.

Marston, who resigned April 1 as Carbon County planner to become landfill manager, said each cell will be one-half mile long, one-quarter mile wide, with a 40-foot interior height. They will be constructed partly below and partly above ground. Each cell will hold six million cubic yards of waste materials.

The site's 2,400 acres can accommodate 29 cells, with each one to be eventually revegetated into a rolling hill or "berm."

Each cell will cost $10 to $15 million to construct including an elaborate plastic, fabric and mesh lining sandwiching three feet of clay, sand material below and two feet of gravel material above, ground water monitoring, computerized record keeping, and plans for daily soil cover on deposits. Marston calls it a "high-tech" operation, not a dump.

"We are going beyond government recommendations," he said.

Residents who organized CAN (Citizens Awareness Now) and meet every other Monday, write newsletters and letters to the editor and hold bake sales to finance their efforts, do not hesitate to use the words "garbage" and "dump."

Spokeswoman Phyllis Johnson, who says surveys reveal CAN represents the majority view, predicts serious air quality and traffic problems.

(The area has rail service and developers are planning rail shipments including a device to automatically dump rail cars as well as truck shipments.)

Johnson fears contaminated groundwater seeping into the Price and Colorado rivers. She also believes East Carbon's reputation will be ruined. "Not even the manufacturer can guarantee the plastic will not leak after 20 years," she said.

"We were not told the whole story," she said. No one protested during lengthy permitting and public hearing processes because they thought the "garbage" would only be incinerated ash, she said.

Developers have talked of economic benefits from jobs in an area with little industry along with dumping fees of 50 cents each to East Carbon and the state and 25 cents to the county.

Johnson says economic benefits have not yet occurred and says most construction workers have come from northern Utah or other states.

To counter CAN's campaign, ECDC filed a civil suit in Seventh District Court in Price. Steve Creamer, ECDC president, said "Our good name is being impugned and the right to conduct legal business compromised." Daniel L. Berman, ECDC attorney said the constitutional protection for speech does not extend to false, malicious and defamatory statements.

Steve Russell, attorney for CAN, has filed an answer and counter claim saying residents have legitimate rights to express their opinions and their fears of such items as wet garbage, sewer sludge, asbestos, car bodies, dead animals and medical waste.

Both suits ask for jury trials and damages.

Also in Seventh District Court is a petition for a Writ of Mandamus to get a referendum on a zoning ordinance passed last January changing the zoning from light to heavy industrial.

After the City Council, which has supported the landfill, denied a petition for a referendum, CAN filed with the Utah Supreme Court which referred it to the District Court.

Another issue concerns 640 acres of school trust lands sold to East Carbon City then leased to ECDC. Governmental units can obtain school lands for public use without going through the bidding process required of private companies. East Carbon's garbage will be buried in the landfill without charge, which some contend is the required public use.

Marston said part of the school lands, all of which are about one half mile from present construction, drop off a cliff and are of limited usefulness. He said the income from the land will be more than the 10 cents per acre grazing fees formerly collected by the state.

East Carbon appears more divided than ever before in its history. On one side are Mayor Paul Clark (who won reelection while supporting the landfill), some citizens who say it may help the economy and "will not hurt a thing" and Carbon County, which issued industrial revenue bonds for the project.

Opposition comes from CAN supporters and others working hard to keep what they call "a garbage dump" out of their neighborhood.