By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Bill Leinheiser, a real estate speculator who sold land to Southpoint, downplays the illegal dumping at Butterfield. "I don't think it's a big deal," he says. "You're always going to get little infractions like that. When you talk about how much was probably sent there, it's probably just gone up into the atmosphere and dispersed before you knew it."
Leinheiser still has property for sale in Mobile and says prices are higher than ever. He foresees Mobile as a mix of residential and industrial uses, and he says he'd be willing to live next to the new dump made possible by the land he sold to Southpoint.
"It's a beautiful area," he notes. "Landfills don't really bother me that much."
A landfill right next door does bother Terry Poteet, who lives less than a football field away from the proposed dump and learned about Southpoint's plans two days after she signed the final papers to purchase her one-and-a-quarter-acre lot last summer.
She says she never would have bought her land if she'd known about the proposed landfill, but someone -- she can't prove who -- had torn down signs marking neighboring property as a future dump site.
"Would you want to live right across from a landfill?" she asks.
Among other things, Poteet worries about drainage. Although the proposed dump isn't within a government-designated flood zone, Southpoint's site fills with water in rainy weather. Poteet's daughter Misty Talbott has pictures that prove it. "They all call us 'The Lake People' at community council meetings," Misty Talbott says.
About a half-mile away, Ruby Parmar and her daughter Nena Allen are resigned to the landfill coming in. They've lived in Mobile for 36 years, most recently in a single-wide with no running water. Even though they've seen successful fights against proposals for an oil refinery and a hazardous-waste incinerator, Parmar and Allen are all too familiar with the equation, and they figure their winning streak is about to end.
"They have power," Allen explains. "They have money. We have nothing. That's why all these businesses settle in these little places. We'll fight the dump all the way, but I believe it will come in."
Talmage Dennis Barney, Jason Barney's father and the man behind Southpoint's proposed dump, certainly has plenty of juice. He lives on the opposite end of the Valley, in a Gilbert home valued at $1 million, and sits on the boards of at least 17 Arizona-based corporations. Indeed, Barney is a corporation unto himself -- he's the president and only listed stockholder of T. Dennis Barney, Inc., an entity which concerns itself with real estate, according to records at the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Five generations ago, Barney's family helped pioneer the East Valley, where most of his businesses are headquartered. While Barney's business interests are diverse, ranging from a flooring company to an interior design superstore, he's made his biggest mark as a land developer, marketing land for industry, luxury housing and vacation homes as far away as Flagstaff.
Jason Barney, one of nine of Talmage Dennis Barney's children, says his family has wanted to open a dump for at least eight years, but Pinal County officials twice scuttled their proposals. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is now considering a permit application from Southpoint, which hopes to open its dump in January 2006.
Jason Barney says another landfill in Mobile just makes good business sense. "You look at the history of projects we've done, we're very diverse and across the board," he says. "My point is, we look at the community and say, 'What does the community need here and how can we create a business opportunity out of that?' That's exactly why we got in the landfill business."
The "how" part of this foray into the landfill business is a familiar tale in Maricopa County, where developers with connections often get what they want.
C. Dennis Barney, one of Talmage Dennis Barney's sons, sat on the county's planning and zoning commission at the time Southpoint's landfill proposal passed. C. Dennis recused himself from discussions and voting. He's since been replaced by his brother Jason.
When the matter reached the supervisors, Don Stapley, who voted in favor of the dump, saw no need to recuse himself, even though he was once business partners with Talmage Dennis Barney. It was hardly a profitable venture -- but it was a big one. The two men were sued 12 years ago by the Resolution Trust Corporation after defaulting on more than $23.4 million in real estate loans.
Stapley did not return a phone call. Jason Barney makes no apologies.
"That's just the way it goes," Barney offers. "Our family's been developing the community here in this Valley for generations. It's unavoidable that we're going to have relationships with people on the board of supervisors, the [planning] staff, whatever."
While their neighbors blast Southpoint and the county, Van Kellems and Bob Black bask in the prospect of a dump in their backyards.
Kellems and Black are a couple of snowbirds from Washington state who've wintered in Mobile for a half-dozen years. Noting the railroad line, easy access to natural gas and electricity, proximity to Highway 238 and the area's sparse population, they say Mobile is a perfect spot for a dump. "Wouldn't you look at this as the greatest place in the world for industrial development?" asks Kellems.