I am 72 and have been a labor and social-justice activist all of my life. I'm old enough to also be somewhat cynical.
So it is refreshing, even exhilarating, to be working against the proposed Marana dump with a bunch of extraordinary ordinary people, mostly blue-collar working women and men who are fighting for their kids, their homes and their community against a developer with big bucks who hires lobbyists, public-relations flacks and consultants to promote a private, for-profit, 165-foot-high garbage dump on top of a rising aquifer in a floodplain by a major wash next to a community of 100 families.
We're fighting a good ol' boys political establishment in Marana; the landfill's 590 acres are being sold by Marana Vice Mayor Herb Kai to DKL Holdings, whose front man is lobbyist Michael Racy.
We are countering expensive newspaper ads, slick brochures and a deceptive telephone "survey" campaign with research and facts—and with passion.
My cohorts look like average working people, and they are—but they are giants, too. They show up at Marana Town Council meetings with facts on landfill hazards, with the record of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act violations of Allied Waste—when DKL president Larry Henk was at the helm—and with personal stories. One man lost two siblings to toxic water contamination.
These documented dangers are real. Research shows that landfill liner systems will leak, that "dry" desert landfills generate almost as much toxic leachate as wet ones, and that risks to those living near a dump include fatal birth defects, acute respiratory infections in kids, and elevated risks of bladder cancer and leukemia for women. When profit is put ahead of people, there are always casualties.
Some don't care. One landfill supporter said at a public hearing, "I don't understand why people are so concerned with defective kids; we've always had them."
Most of these giants among us live in Silverbell West, a wildcat subdivision of mostly manufactured homes west of Marana, on the landfill's border. Others come from Picture Rocks, where the Avra Valley aquifer is shared. Most of these giants have never been involved in a campaign before, so they are inventing it as they go along. They've turned in more than 2,100 signatures on petitions opposing the dump. They showed up with homemade floats at the Marana Founders' Day Parade. They carry signs saying "Save Our Water" to council meetings. They travel to other communities to gather support, and have won allies in Continental Ranch and Dove Mountain. Living in unincorporated Pima County, they have no legal voice in Marana, which recently annexed Kai's land. Still, they carry on, writing letters; challenging telemarketing calls that blatantly lie; and meeting with the town attorney to insist, successfully, that the town disassociate itself from such misrepresentation. They also maintain an information-packed website at www.NoMaranaDump.com.
The vote to rezone the vice mayor's land for a dump was recently postponed to mid-October or early November. This happened when it was pointed out that the council was violating its own laws by not sending a proposed development agreement with DKL back to the town's Planning and Zoning Commission. On Aug. 17, the council chambers were packed as landfill supporters did not respond to a new memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry to District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson noting that development of a transfer station with county-authorized bonds at the Tangerine Landfill means that municipal waste collection there "will continue for the indefinite future." That undercuts a major argument of the developer, that there is an immediate need for the Marana dump.
Opponents have only one solid ally on the Marana Town Council, and the developer and his minions are pulling out all the stops. Lobbyist Racy is a generous contributor to political campaigns. There has even been some old-fashioned red-baiting by Racy.
Still, these giants struggle on. Unlike the developer and his flacks, they have nowhere else to go, and that is a source of their strength. They fight for themselves, for their children, for their homes, for their community, for generations to come, and for all of us. I am proud to walk with them.