Judge rules against referendum

Published 11:33 am Friday, August 10, 2018

An emergency motion to dismiss a request for a referendum was granted by a judge during a hearing Tuesday morning at the Cumberland County Courthouse.

The original hearing was set for Aug. 23.

Judge Melvin Hughes Jr., a retired judge for the 13th Judicial Circuit, made the ruling at the end of the court hearing, which lasted approximately 45 minutes.

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Hughes also heard the court hearing for an injunction request July 31 and ruled to deny, citing that the court does not believe the injunction presented follows the criteria for immediate or imminent harm to citizens, which would need to be proven to the court before it can rule in favor of an injunction.

Plaintiff William Bruce compiled referendums from the Library of Virginia, including some from as far back as the 1800s, and some that originated from Cumberland County. He argued that the citizen vote is foundational to Cumberland County and to the United States, and he argued that the referendum in response to the Green Ridge landfill would allow citizens to be heard in a way he felt they were not during the landfill process.

“The citizens and myself felt that the referendum would help justify a wrong,” Bruce said during the hearing. He argued that the citizens themselves could not determine whether the county should vote on a landfill. He said the decision would need to be made by the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors.

The referendum question asks, “Should the Board of Supervisors of Cumberland County, Virginia, be allowed to approve the building of a landfill within the County Limits without a Voter Referendum?”

Bruce said during the July 30 court hearing he filed the request to petition June 13, and it was granted by the Cumberland County Circuit Court June 15. Bruce said he and other residents were able to collect more than 1,000 signatures in six days and submit to the county. He said close to 300 of the signatures were dismissed, but said the amount of signatures needed to hold a referendum still exceeded the requirement by approximately 200 signatures.

Defendant L. Lee Byrd, attorney from Sands Anderson law firm representing Cumberland County Board of Supervisors, cited Virginia Code 24.2-684, which cited that “No referendum shall be placed on the ballot unless specifically authorized by statute or by charter.”

Byrd cited that there were no referendum in Virginia that specifically addressed landfills. He also said Cumberland County would not be authorized to approve a referendum or allow it to go forward, that power would have to come from the state’s general assembly.

Vivian Seay Giles, county administrator and county attorney, also represented the board during the hearing.

Hughes asked whether an appeal for the decision made by the board to approve zoning of parcels for the landfill from Agricultural-2, with a portion zoned as Residential-2, to Industrial-2 (M-2) was filed.

Byrd said there were between one to two papers filed Monday for appeal. He said the county is currently evaluating the appeals.

Byrd requested an objection of Bruce’s presentation of the compilation from the Library of Virginia, citing unauthorized or irrelevant evidence. 

Hughes said for those opposed to the landfill who want to present their case to the general assembly, they could do so in January when the general assembly convenes, and as the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) determines whether to issue a permit for the landfill.

Hughes ruled to deny the referendum request, citing that the Cumberland County Circuit Court would not be an appropriate avenue to pursue the landfill referendum.

Bruce said after the hearing that the results of the hearing were what he expected. He said he and others are set to continue pursuing the landfill issue at the county, state and federal level.

Text of the court ruling is expected to be released in the near future, Cumberland County Circuit Court Clerk Deidre Martin confirmed.