WCSWA’s Hughes Sued
NEW MARTINSVILLE – There were some tense moments at the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority’s monthly meeting held on Thursday, March 3, as a pending lawsuit against board Chairman Bill Hughes was discussed.
Hughes is being sued in federal court by Lackawanna Transport Co., which owns and operates the Wetzel County Landfill. Lackawanna is seeking a jury trial.
The complaint against Hughes claims he used his position as the authority’s chairman to “intervene, for his own personal reasons, but purportedly on behalf of the Authority, in proceedings before the Public Service Commission of West Virginia” without the authority’s approval.
The case before the PSC dealt with Lackawanna’s application for two dedicated disposal cells at the landfill for Marcellus Shale drilling waste.
Lackawanna filed its application on Feb. 21, 2013. On July 13, 2013, the PSC’s staff recommended approval, and on July 22, 2013, Lackawanna filed a response with the PSC concurring with the staff’s memorandum.
The complaint states the application should have been routinely approved at that time.
However, on Oct. 13, 2013, “without the authority’s permission and for purposes of furthering his own private political agenda,” Hughes sent a letter to the West Virginia Attorney General’s office stating the solid waste authority needed representation to aid it in determining whether to intervene in the PSC case.
The attorney general’s office approved Hughes’ request, which was limited to giving advice as to “whether to intervene,” not to represent the authority in an intervention.
Between Oct. 13 and Nov. 6, 2013, “and at no time thereafter,” the solid waste authority did not vote to intervene in the proceedings, according to the lawsuit. However, on Nov. 6, 2013, a petition was filed on behalf of the authority to intervene in the case.
The PSC agreed to have the authority intervene in May 2014.
The complaint states that on or about Jan. 9 of this year, Lackawanna learned that the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority had never approved the filing of a petition to intervene with the PSC.
According to the lawsuit, Hughes referred to the authority as the intervenor.
In later testimony, Hughes reportedly admitted that he and one other person were the sole members of the Wetzel County Action Group, which opposes drilling, and that he has made public appearances in other states and written articles opposed to drilling.
Listed on the agenda for last week’s meeting was the case before the PSC. Hughes noted the board had been advised to not discuss the case, due to the pending lawsuit against him. Hughes’ personal attorney, Thomas Buck, also attended the meeting, and interjected at several points, warning authority members about breaking attorney/client privelege while the members were discussing Freedom of Information Act requests made by Lackawanna.
Buck does not represent the board, and has no affiliation with the board other than being Hughes’ attorney.
Authority member Mark Cochran said it’s time the board addressed the lawsuit.
“It is way past time to bury the hatchet with Mascaro (owner of Lackawanna). How much money and how many opportunities have been lost because of this feud? We have to stop and get past this,” Cochran said.
JP Mascaro III, the nephew of Pat Mascaro, was present at the meeting. He noted he was speaking on behalf of the family and Lackawanna.
“We would like nothing more than to have a good relationship. We don’t want to waste our time and resources in disagreements, litigation, and lawsuits,” Mascaro noted.
“We are at a crossroads, because of some actions some specific board members have taken against our companies, that have resulted in some litigation. I will not speak to the merits of the litigation. I will tell you, it is an error to take Mr. Buck’s advice as to what the other four board members should do tonight. (Buck’s) interests are Mr. Hughes’ interest, and Mr. Hughes alone.”
Mascaro said illegal action was taken by Hughes to intervene with the PSC.
“I’m not here to discuss whether we like landfills or not. I’m here to simply discuss the ramifications of allowing an illegal action to continue,” he added.
Hughes said the authority needed to limit public comments at that time. Cochran then made the motion that the authority withdraw as intervener. The motion included that the authority direct attorney Robert R. Rodecker to take the “necessary and appropriate actions to implement the authority’s withdrawal” from the Lackawanna case.
Cochran said he was ashamed of what the authority had done, and that he did not speak up earlier and ask questions.
“I may carry this shame to my grave. … I think passing this motion is essential to us to getting back on the right track. I don’t think anything bad can happen to us. It’ll be nothing but good,” he said.
“While we contemplate this, we need to ask ourselves … Have the citizens of Wetzel County been done a disservice? Have monies been spent that could be used for litter cleanup, expanding recycling, and all the things that solid waste laws say we should have been implementing?” he added.
Authority member Steve Conlon noted that the authority members’ signatures are on the documents authorizing the intervention.
“The only document my signature is on is the paper we sent to the PSC asking for a public hearing in New Martinsville,” Cochran declared.
“This board never asked to intervene in the case before the PSC,” he said.
The board then voted to withdraw from the PSC Case.
When contacted Monday, Hughes issued the following statement:
“At last week’s Solid Waste Authority meeting, minimal details were provided about the civil lawsuit filed in Northern District Federal Court by the Wetzel County Landfill owners/operators against me, personally.
“Responses and reactions from friends and supporters have ranged from disbelief to outrage. Neither opinion do I share. So some objective frame of reference is needed.
“From the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, of the railroad barons and their rights of way, objecting citizens who spoke out became a target and were swiftly removed from the scene. The coal mine wars here in West Virginia 90-plus years ago clearly demonstrated the aggressive influence of coal companies, especially when accompanied with state supported force.
“So, for some perspective, a civil lawsuit filed by the landfill owners really is a relatively benign response and not too surprising. This is how the system works. It is better than the violent and destructive responses of a century ago.
“Both sides will have our day in court. Evidence, facts, and opinions and documents will all be presented and the court system is designed to process and evaluate them. A corporation or an individual with a perceived injustice has the right to say, “See you in court.”
“Let’s be patient, stay calm, and let the system work.”