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Solid waste dispute headed to court

Authority board authorizes legal action against Bessemer



Ironwood — The dispute between the Gogebic Range Solid Waste Management Authority and the city of Bessemer is headed to court.

The authority’s board voted Thursday to direct attorney Steven Tinti to pursue litigation against the city of Bessemer regarding the money owed to the authority.

“Ironwood Township can’t pay more than what (it should),” Kathy Maki said as she seconded the motion to pursue litigation.

At issue in the dispute between the city and authority is a disagreement regarding whether the city should be responsible for its portions of the debt incurred by the authority. Bessemer’s city council voted to leave the authority at its March 16 meeting.

According to Shane Ellison, an outside accountant hired by the authority to calculate Bessemer’s share of the debt, the city owes $88,811. In various correspondence with the authority, city attorney Michael Korpela dismissed the figure and proposed $16,000 as a preliminary number the city might consider as a possible settlement.

Because of the dispute, the city failed to contribute its share of roughly $730, or approximately 25 percent, of the $2,968 bond payment the authority made at the beginning of August.

Thursday’s vote to authorize legal action came after Tinti — who the authority retained in December to handle the dispute going forward — introduced himself to the board and laid out his views on the case.

Tinti, who is based in Crystal Falls, said he reviewed the relevant documents in the case and there was no provision to allow for a unilateral withdrawal from the authority.

He told the authority board it is facing both a legal and political issue.

“I can’t help your political problem. I can help your legal problem. Quite simply put, you have a choice — if you do nothing, you pass the costs onto the remaining five members (of the authority), period. And you’re going to have to explain, if that is the course you choose, why you have done it,” Tinti said, summarizing the decision to be made. “So in effect, you have to decide either to enforce what is in place — and it’s rather clear on the issue — or you have to decide not to.”

He said it was clear that enforcing the agreement meant the dispute would be resolved in circuit court and explained that the state would have to appoint a judge to hear the case, as incoming circuit court judge Michael Pope can’t hear the case, as he represented the authority through much of the dispute.

At several points during his overview, Tinti said he felt the case was clearly in favor of the authority’s position.

“It’s relatively straightforward. You have a bond schedule, you have payments of both principal and interest, you have a document that assigns percentages to the underlying units — simple, straight forward.”

Tinti was also asked how strong he felt the authority’s case was.

“Based upon the documents, as they are drafted; based upon the requirements and agreements that were made, it’s my opinion they are fully enforceable.” he replied.

He added it wouldn’t be like court cases seen on television, adding it would be “boring” and “document intensive.”

Tinti did caution that each party paid its own legal costs and therefor the authority would be spending money to get the money it feels Bessemer owes.

If the judge rules that Bessemer indeed owes money, the city would be forced to pay. If they refused to pay, he explained the authority would take a certified copy of the judgement to the assessor and an automatic levy would appear on the city’s next tax bill.

“That’s how you collect against a governmental unit that is not cooperative,” he said.

After laying out the legal position, Tinti returned to the political implications of the issue.

“Can you, in good conscience and (considering) your oath of office, pass on the obligation of one unit to the remaining five,” he asked the board.

Following his presentation, Tinti told the Daily Globe he estimated the litigation would be filed around the end of February.

In other action:

— The authority voted to repay Bessemer the approximately $6,500 it owed the city. The money was part of a loan the member municipalities contributed toward the amount the authority owed Waste Management. The other members had already been paid, but the authority had been delaying Bessemer’s payment — based on Pope’s advice — while negotiations were ongoing. Tinti advised the authority to pay the money to prevent it from complicating the litigation. He said while he didn’t have a complete picture of the authority’s finances, paying the debt would remove it as a talking point from the city’s position.

“That issue will muck up the other issue because it will create two tracks. And you want to, if you’re going to court, you want to keep the focus on the authority, and then you want to keep the focus on what the city did to repudiate what it agreed to do.”

— The board approved replacing a damaged door on the east end of the recycling building at the transfer station. The door is expected to cost $2,292, according to documents provided to the board.

— Authority Administrator Chris Ann Bressette said the use of the court’s community service program to work in the recycling facility was working great.


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