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Alan Neigher succeeded in a bid to have a law unfavorable to his client, City Recycling, declared unconstitutional by the Connecticut Supreme Court. In a unanimous Aug. 14 opinion, the state supreme court took the rare step of flunking a state law on constitutional grounds, holding it “was not rationally related to any legitimate state interest” and thus “unconstitutional as applied.” In the closing hours of the 1997 session, Public Act 97-300 was passed to outlaw construction of “a new volume reduction plant or transfer station” located “within one-quarter mile of a child day care center” in a town with more than 100,000 population. To Westport, Conn., lawyer Alan Neigher, the bill was unconstitutional special legislation: the result of powerful local lawmakers ganging up on a single small-business client. “They had virtually unlimited authority — and exceeded it,” crowed the victorious Neigher, referring to the legislators and their bill curbing his client, City Recycling Inc., in its bid to create a volume reduction facility in Stamford. Indeed, in the Connecticut House debate on the act, Rep. Jesse C. Stratton, D-Canton, said the law was redrafted “to make it apply only to a specific circumstance and exclude its impact on others.” Only five Connecticut cities fit the over-100,000 population category, and locally owned City Recyling’s site is less than a 1/4 mile away from Activities for Kids, Inc., a child day care center in the Glenbrook Community Center. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. George P. Jepsen and state Rep. Anne McDonald, both Stamford Democrats. Jepsen is a Glenbrook resident and lives half a mile away from the proposed facility. Residents in the high-density neighborhood were caught unawares by the refuse processors, Jepsen said, insisting there’s an important public purpose in reversing suburbia’s tendency to dump burdens on cities. Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and Waterbury “shoulder the burden in Connecticut for most of the waste-treatment plants, the trash-to-energy plants, the domestic violence shelters, the hospitals — whatever ill exists in society, the burden is borne by the cities. That’s most of the reason Connecticut cities are in a state of decay,” Jepsen said in an interview. City Recycling’s proposed plant is in an industrial zone that borders dense residential neighborhoods, and would draw heavy truck traffic through densely populated blocks, Jepsen contends. Nevertheless, Neigher says his clients were victims of “the raw use of political power by certain Stamford legislators.” Without speaking to City Recycling’s principals, he says, they enacted a law “targeted solely at [City Recycling's] business [based] on facts that were totally specious.” City Recycling’s owners bought real estate and spent $500,000 to upgrade a facility where recyclables would be hand-separated within a large building. But after passage of the 1997 act, the company was denied a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection for its facility because of the new law, not on any finding it would pose an environmental risk. It appealed, claiming a due process violation. When the state supreme court considered City Recycling’s first appeal in 1999, it requested more detailed findings. Stamford Superior Court Judge Frank H. D’Andrea Jr. delivered. He found that the facility would not really generate dust, because the cans, bottles, office paper and other recyclables wouldn’t change form. Its permit from the city didn’t allow shredding or grinding machinery. It wouldn’t attract vermin because it would not accept garbage. Any threat of water pollution was minimized by the facility’s stormwater-control landscaping. As summarized in Justice David Borden’s opinion, “the facility does not have any adverse environmental effect on the children at the cay care center or anyone who lives near the site.” Neigher’s clients had a steep test to overcome the presumption of constitutionality. They had to refute “every conceivable basis which might support the law” wrote Borden, and D’Andrea’s findings did just that.

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