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Heher retires after 43 years of service

May 23, 2018
J.T. Whitehouse , The Town Crier

Earlier this month, Michael Heher announced his official retirement after 43 years of service with Republic Services, formerly known as BFI, which operates the Carbon Limestone Landfill at 8100 South State Line Road in Lowellville. Over the years Heher has been instrumental in being a good neighbor and giving back to the community.

Recently Heher took a moment to reflect on his career and the good things he brought to the Poland community. It dates back to 1971 when Heher ended a four-year stretch with the U.S. Navy. He returned to civilian life with a degree in biology.

"I could have went into cancer research, or doing something with the environment," he said.

Article Photos

Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Michael Heher poses in Poland Township Park, a natural gem for all Poland residents that Heher played a part in establishing.

He chose the environment and applied to the Mahoning County Board of Health and was hired. At that time, he said Mahoning County had seven landfills and Heher found himself handling a solid waste program.

In 1973, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was formed and Heher was hired to run a solid waste program with Ohio's 88 landfills. He was doing a good job for the Ohio EPA and that caused BFI to take notice.

"BFI called me and ask me to come and work for them in September of 1974," Heher said. "I became their regional director of marketing development."

In that position, Heher was in charge of buying up mom-and-pop companies that were hauling garbage to the landfills. He had charge over western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, western Kentucky, and West Virginia. He also worked with government entities in developing industry laws and regulations.

Moving forward to 1987, the Carbon Limestone Landfill was taking garbage from 400 miles away.

"We were in the local news for over a year," Heher said. "Then the EPA refused a new license for the landfill and the Board of Health denied a permit."

In February of the following year, Heher was called in the main office and was asked to run the Carbon Limestone Landfill along with two landfills in Green Township near Quaker City Raceway. He accepted the position and knew the route he needed to take.

"My idea was to work with the neighbors and address their concerns," he said. "Their concerns were mainly about traffic, waste pollution, and odors. We tried to address all these issues."

Heher then helped in upgrading the landfill site and establishing a host fee for all vehicles dumping at the landfills. That is when Heher met with the township and discussed uses for the host fees. The funds were used, Heher said, to extend water lines in eastern Mahoning County and constructing a one-million gallon water tank. Those improvements help feed the new developments east of Poland Seminary High School.

In the meantime, the Carbon Limestone Landfill continued accepting garbage and collecting the host fees, even though it was not licensed or permitted. Heher said because the issue was being appealed in court, the landfill could continue operating. The case went on to 1991, when things took a turn for the better as far as the landfill was concerned.

In 1991, Heher met with a group of representatives from government and citizens groups to iron out an agreement for recycling. Heher recalled the group consisting of Tim Tusek from the Mahoning County Prosecutor's Officer, Don Summers from the Mahoning County Board of Health, Jim Stratton from the Green Team, John Kotchmere from the citizens' group D.U.M.P. (Don't Use My Property), and Nils Johnson representing Poland Township.

"We all sat and hammered out a host agreement and settled all the legal proceedings against us," Heher said.

He said the agreement was accepted by Poland Township trustees on the Tuesday before Easter Week. On Wednesday morning, the Board of Health accepted it. On Thursday the Green Team gave its approval, and on Friday morning the Mahoning County commissioners agreed to it.

Heher said on Good Friday, 1991, all lawsuits were dropped and the landfill got its license to operate back. The following year the Ohio EPA looked at the landfill and gave it the permit it needed.

"That host agreement has been updated over the years, but the one thing that came out of it was the curbside recycling," Heher said. "Carbon Limestone picks up the cost and makes us the only Ohio county that has free curbside recycling."

While the past 43 years saw Heher working hard at his position at Republic Services, but his real success came from his belief of working with the neighbors to address their problems and concerns. He also brought to Poland Township one of the finest parks in the area that includes baseball and soccer fields, hiking trails, playgrounds, pavilions, and even a sled-riding hill.

The park was property owned by Republic Services and was leased to the township for $1 per year for nine years. Heher explained that if the property were donated to the township, it would become government-owned and therefore would no longer be paying property tax to Poland schools. By keeping ownership of the property, Republic Services still pays the property taxes while the township gets the use of a beautiful spacious park.

In 2000, Heher was asked to head up a Township Park Board, which he gladly accepted. Under his leadership, the park was able to build the sled hill, add over 30 acres, and see a system of trails built by Eagle Scouts and named for Poland's early settlers.

"This park did not cost any tax-payer money," Heher said. "It is ran and improved by almost all volunteer efforts and donations."

Heher also served as president of the Mahoning County Chapter of the American Red Cross, president of the Industrial Institute of Education, and president of the Mahoning County chapter of the Genealogical Society, a passion he hopes to continue to pursue.

"I have been doing [genealogical] research for 45 years," Heher said. "It's my passion. I love helping other people find their history."

Heher said he is retiring from park board as well and turning it over to Ken Flicky, who he said will do a great job for the township.

In his retirement, Heher plans to spend more time with his grandchildren and his wife Suzanne, who he will be celebrating 50 years of marriage with this year.

At Republic, he is leaving a landfill that now uses the gas build up to power 18,000 homes and is constructing a leachate plant that will go operational within a year.

"In the last 45 years, I have seen a big change in the [landfill] industry," he said. "I was proud to have been a part of it."



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