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Inc. v. Kay R.I.S.E.

Community Mobilization

In January of 1990, citizens concerned about the proposed landfill met in the Second Mt. Olive Baptist Church with three county supervisors and a city administrator. The citizens expressed concerns that the proposed landfill would reduce the quality of life of area residents by increasing noise, dust and odor. They were also worried the landfill would result in a decrease in the area's property values. Even Reverend Taylor of the church argued that it would interfere with worship and social activities. Many believed major improvements in access roads would be necessary.

In February, the board held a public hearing and invited Browning-Ferris Industries to make a presentation about operation of regional landfills. Present at the meeting were 225 citizens. Fifteen spoke in opposition to the proposal. In addition, the board was presented with a petition signed by 947 individuals opposing the regional landfill. After considering these comments, the board voted unanimously to authorize development of a landfill. In response, a Concerned Citizen's Steering Committee sent a letter to the county board of supervisors requesting that the board establish a Regional Landfill Citizen's Advisory Committee to assess other siting possibilities before signing any actual purchase contracts. Soon, a list of alternative sites to the Piedmont site was narrowed to one, the Mantapike Tract. The minority population of the area surrounding the Mantapike Tract was 85 percent African American.

Upon inspection of the Mantapike site, Browning-Ferris Industries reported to the board that the site was environmentally unsuitable because of the slope of the land and a stream running through it. With the site selection narrowed to the Piedmont tract, local citizens formed Residents Involved in Saving the Environment, Inc. (RISE), in May of 1990. RISE was a biracial group concerned over environmental protection issues. Race discrimination was not initially identified as a significant public issue by the group.

In July of 1990, the county approved a planning commission's recommendation that the Piedmont Tract be rezoned from agricultural production to an industrial area. In an August public hearing, the board passed a resolution to finally sign a lease for the Piedmont site with Browning-Ferris Industries who would operate the landfill. Though the population of King and Queen County was approximately 50 percent African American, 64 percent of those living within a half-mile radius of the proposed regional landfill site were African American. RISE filed a lawsuit in federal district court claiming the proposed siting of the landfill was racially discriminatory violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In hearing the case, Judge Richard L. Williams applied the standard established in Arlington Heights to determine if the county's decision violated the Constitution. In order to assess the intent of the county in its decisions, Williams first evaluated the effect of the government action in this case. After weighing the statistics concerning landfills in King and Queen County, Williams concluded the historical placement of landfills in predominantly black communities provided "an important starting point" for determining whether official action was motivated by discriminatory intent. Williams found, indeed, that landfill placement in the county since 1969 posed a disproportionate impact on black residents. But what of the other factors, such as sequence of events leading to the county decision and deviation from existing procedures for making zoning changes? Williams found that "the plaintiffs have not provided any evidence that satisfies the remainder of the discriminatory purpose equation set forth in Arlington Heights. Careful examination of the administrative steps taken by the board of supervisors to negotiate the purchase of the Piedmont Tract and authorize its use as a landfill site reveals nothing unusual or suspicious." The frequent public hearings provided ample opportunity for citizen involvement. The record demonstrated to Williams that the county board's opposition to the King Land landfill and its approval of the newly proposed Piedmont landfill was not based on the racial composition of the respective neighborhoods in which the landfills were located. The key issue weighed by the county was the relative environmental suitability of the sites.

The record clearly indicated the board of supervisors had preferred the Piedmont tract because tests had found it environmentally suitable for landfill development. Establishment of a citizens advisory group and evaluating the suitability of the alternative site, recommended by the Concerned Citizens' Steering Committee, indicated that public comment was considered. The discussion with landfill contractor, Browning-Ferris Industries, to minimize the impact of the landfill on the Second Mt. Olive Church, and improving access roads showed that the board of supervisors had followed normal procedures.

Williams asserted that the Equal Protection Clause did not impose an affirmative duty to equalize the impact of official decisions on different racial groups. RISE had not provided sufficient evidence to meet the Arlington Heights' legal standard. Williams wrote, "official action will not be held unconstitutional solely because it results in a racially disproportionate impact. Such action violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause only if it is intentionally discriminatory." The county could proceed with its plans.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Inc. v. Kay R.I.S.E. - Significance, The King And Queen Landfill Dilemma, Community Mobilization, Impact, Further Readings