The controversial purchase of city sludge disposal land was put on hold Wednesday, when the nearly $1 million contract between the Light and Water board and a local developer expired.
When the Columbus Light and Water board agreed to buy the 118.8 acres along Nashville Ferry Road near Shady Lane from McArthur Properties LLC for $969,000, the board had a couple of stipulations: Get the land permitted for waste disposal, and do it by June 8.
Russell Sheffield, owner of McArthur Properties, is still in the early stages of the permitting process and has requested an extension from the CL&W board.
Before getting a Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality permit, Sheffield has to convince the Golden Triangle Regional Solid Waste Management Authority to change its regional waste plan.
The Authority agreed in May to allow public hearings to give nearby residents a chance to voice concerns. The first hearing, which will be conducted by the Authority, had not been scheduled by Wednesday.
But now, the future of the deal is looking less certain.
The board narrowly approved the deal in a 3-2 vote last year, and now Chairman Jabari O. Edwards — who cast the tie-breaking vote — would have to recuse himself because his wife is now in business with Sheffield.
A tied vote would mean the deal would kill a motion to enter another contract with Sheffield.
On the other hand, the five-year term of board member Tom Sneed — who cast a “no” vote for buying the land — ends June 21. Although he is currently the only applicant, a new member could tip the scales in Sheffield”s favor.
Jimmy Graham also voted “no,” while David Shelton and Brandy Gardner voted “yes.”
According to sources at CL&W, none of the members plan on changing their votes on the issue.
Questions were raised then about possible connections between Sheffield and board members.
The board received two appraisals for the land, one at $500,000 that did not count sludge transportation costs and long-term savings, and the other at $1.8 million.
Shelton and his family had done business with Sheffield in the past, and Jimmy Graham and Tom Sneed were in business with Ronnie West, who had offered his land for purchase also.
West”s land would have cost the city less, although board members expressed concern at the time that proper testing had not been done to see whether the land would have been usable for sludge disposal.