PHILLIPI, W.VA. -- Here, where the first land battle of the Civil War was fought, a landfill battle now rages that has divided the community.

Voters in Barbour County will decide in Tuesday's election whether to allow the owners of an old strip mine to build a modern landfill there that would accept up to 2.4 million tons of trash annually -- most of it from out of state.

Proponents include the County Commission and others who argue that the landfill project will bring badly needed growth to this economically depressed community, where unemployment is running at about 19 percent and average per capita income as of 1988 was $8,357.

Opponents raise the specter of long-lasting environmental damage and bridle at the notion of their community as garbage dump to the world. "Don't turn West Virginia into Waste Virginia!" warns one of the many hand-made yard signs that dot the county urging voters to reject the facility.

The issue is before county voters as a result of a recently passed state law that gives local voters more control over locating such facilities. It is one of a growing number of local referendums on environmental issues that allow communities to register their concerns about possible environmental damage directly instead of pursuing costly, time-consuming legal challenges, said Allen Hershkowitz of the National Resources Defense Council.

The battle of Phillipi also highlights the increasing difficulty of solid waste disposal and tensions over its interstate shipment as the nation's landfill capacity shrinks. Over the past 10 years, closing of landfills has reduced the available capacity by 80 percent, and approximately half of what remains will shut down in the next five years. Densely populated states such as New York and New Jersey are already shipping a significant percentage out of state.

John Faltis and partner William Rottier, who runs a Dutch coal trading company, own several coal mining companies, as well as Energy Resource Management Services Inc. (ERMS), the company that wants to build the Barbour County landfill.

"We're a medium-sized coal mining company that has a considerable amount of acreage left over from the days {when} we were mining it," said Faltis. They want to build a modern, state-of-the-art landfill on approximately 600 acres of the 1,326 King Knob site, mined until 1987.

The site would receive solid waste from other states by rail and would dispose of approximately 7,500 tons a day in a pit fitted with double plastic liners and systems for monitoring and collecting water discharged by the landfill.

But the site is up in the mountains and, because it is a former coal mine site, it is laced with underground cavities that will make the runoff hard to control, according to opponents. "You're looking at a 60-ton baggie of garbage, and it's going to leak -- the question is when," said Paul Bulka, a plumbing contractor who is one of the organizers of the opposition.

ERMS says the landfill will be safe and clean and generate 200 jobs in a county where total employment is only 2,881 and where some residents commute to jobs more than four hours away. In addition, it will help make the county's coal more price competitive because rail cars that haul it to buyers can return full of trash, instead of empty. The company estimates that the county and the school board will receive approximately $5 million a year in fees when the landfill is fully operational. And there's more -- including free waste disposal to county residents and scholarships for high school graduates.

Without the landfill, the county, which has a budget of $1.3 million this year, down from $1.9 million three years ago, faces "a bleak-looking future," said Barbour County Coordinator Phil Green.

"The county commissioners seem to think this is going to be the goose that laid the golden egg," said Rex Freeman, an opponent of the landfill who is also waging a write-in campaign as a Democrat against an incumbent commissioner, also a Democrat. A school bus driver, Freeman said he believes the economic benefits of the project have been overstated and the possible environmental damage understated. "This dump will take two and a half times the solid waste that the state of West Virginia produces a day."

With only days to go before the election, both sides say the election is too close to call. Several Philippi residents declined to say how they would vote, citing the strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

"If they maintain it enough, I don't see it would do any more water damage than the mines -- and it would provide jobs. Doggone right, I'd vote for it," said Ronald Fagons, a mason temporarily out of work because of a disability. But Fagons's friend Tony Johnson, laid off from construction work in the Washington suburbs where both men travel for work, disagreed.

"At the present, they'll keep it up. In the future, they'll forget," he said. "We're just selling ourselves."

The landfill campaign has been bitter and expensive. Freeman hints darkly about radioactive waste and mob connections. Faltis, who lives a few counties away in Morgantown, walks past yard signs that say "Stop Faltis" as he goes door to door, trying to make his case. Faltis criticizes "single issue" anti-dump candidates and complains that he has been the target of false rumors -- including, most damagingly, speculation that deer hunting would be prohibited at the site.

As of midweek, both sides had spent more than $300,000 in the past two months in an effort to sway voters, the biggest election expenditures in the history of this county of only 16,639 residents. Most of it -- $277,715 -- has been spent by the ERMS forces. Among other efforts, Faltis has handed out pro-landfill videotapes to miners who work for him. If the voters approve the project, Faltis said he will be investing $65 million in it.

Sitting in a living room Thursday afternoon with landfill opponent Mike Moats, Faltis campaigned, handing out samples of filters and diagrams of landfill liners, but he also made some personal points. "I just want you to know... I'm not a bad person," he said.

"I haven't heard that," said Moats. "You've got some good points, John." But Moats's concerns centered on loftier issues than waste water treatment. Maybe, Moats said, the county's economy could be restored through tourism, not trash. "I just want a little more for Philippi," he said. "I've got a little better hope for Philippi than that."