Hurried NC Landfill Deal Riles Residents

While a local county Board of Commissioners meeting is not usually something newsworthy, it can become so when an issue brings together residents of an entire county to support a small community within the county experiencing what some would describe as contentious. Last evening, the Newton County, Georgia Board of Commissioners agreed to postpone any decision regarding a landfill settlement that would have resulted in the expansion of the county landfill located near the Springhill Community until an independent review can be conducted within 60 days and input gathered from a citizen committee.

According to the Covington News, in an article highlighting last Thursday’s meeting:

Under the proposed deal, the county would lease its landfill to Green Hill 3P, a newly formed public-private initiative that would also include members from the East Georgia Land and Development Company, which recently won a 17-year legal battle to apply for a permit to build a private landfill on 424 acres adjacent to the county’s.

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The deal is intended to resolve the lawsuit with East Georgia, which may be entitled to damages, while transferring financial responsibility for the operation of the public landfill to a third party. The landfill and recycling centers currently run at a deficit of about $2 million a year, but critics have accused the county of mismanaging what could be a very lucrative resource worth hundreds of millions.

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East Georgia had asked the county for a zoning compliance in 1997 in order to pave the way for the company to request a permit to develop a private landfill on its 424 acres adjacent to the county from the state. Newton County declined citing the landfill was not permitted under the county’s 1985 zoning ordinance. East Georgia filed a lawsuit which eventually wound its way to be heard in the state Supreme Court three times. Each ruling was in favor of East Georgia.

The Rockdale Citizen reported:

In order to now settle the litigation, the county and East Georgia have negotiated a deal in which East Georgia will sell its land to the county for $8.5 million, giving Newton County the opportunity to expand its landfill, take in waste from other counties and develop a revenue stream.

The complex plan calls for the county to lease the expanded landfill to a third-party operator – Green Hill P3 – which has been formed for this purpose. Green Hill would make quarterly lease payments to the county along with a host fee of $1 per ton after collection of 1.2 million tons of waste. The lease payment will be used to pay off the promissory note to Georgia Land.

Residents voiced their concerns over Green Hill’s plan to make the landfill a regional one for the state which would increase the daily disposal rate from 265 tons per day to 1000 tons per day.

Those in the Springhill Community have complained about the smell from the landfill, increasing number of buzzards, environmental issues regarding toxins permeating the nearby Yellow River, increased truck traffic and decreases in property values should the landfill expand.

Brenda Mullins, a resident of the Springhill Community whose family purchased 100 acres in the area in 1900, stated the landfill was currently about two miles from her home. She stated that the proposed landfill expansion would place it very close to her property line. Ms. Mullins cited four companies involved in the county landfill deal as RLS Consulting (Jacksonville, FL), Lassiter (unknown affiliation), East Georgia and Green Hill. She stated that it was not known who was involved in the Green Hill company.

Ms. Mullins, whose family has held the largest parcel of land in that area, stated the community gained a small victory with the Commissioners calling for an independent review and establishing a citizen committee for solutions. However, questions remain as to how the committee will be put together, who will participate from the community and what kind of input was expected from the committee. She vowed to remain vigilant on the issue.

According to Ms. Mullins, issues with the county landfill have been ongoing for some time. She indicated the Environmental Protection Division of the State of Georgia have cited the county on this landfill in order to clean up violations with several corrective action plans. She indicated there has just been more of the status quo on the part of the county for years. Area residents prefer there would be no dump; however, since one is located near their homes, she stated they had been promised a county-only dump without any further expansion.

Bob Krasko, a hydrogeologist who has consulted for Newton County in the past and developed corrective action plans addressing water and air contamination that were approved by the EPD, indicated at a previous BOC meeting that a mistake was being made allowing Green Hill’s engineer to act as sole technical consultant. Krasko has performed evaluation on the landfill for the last eight years but was not invited to offer a professional opinion.

According to Krasko, the county could receive several million dollars in reimbursement and matching funds from the state to upgrade the landfill. Additionally, methane gas extraction companies would pay to install the capture systems and split the profit with the county.

Tee Stribling, lead project manager for Green Hill, stated at one meeting on the landfill that all the concerns expressed by local residents could be corrected by Green Hill while blaming current management for those problems now.

Old habits die hard and this county Board of Commissioners under the chairmanship of Keith Ellis has the bad habit of haste. The board seems to want to settle issues and vote on proposals before gathering all the information necessary for prudent decisions. Another drawback this board seems to have is the lack of knowledge of why governments are instituted among men – the preservation of individual God-given rights. The entire board seems more interested in “deals,” preserving cronyism, and catering to businesses instead of what is in the county’s and residents’ best interest. From allowing back door money borrowing deals for board members to keeping a county attorney steeped in controversial conflict of interest activities to brokering a landfill deal that has the potential to be detrimental to an entire community, the board weighs not the input of residents or possible harm to the community until an overwhelming opposition from all areas of the county emerge not to mention the appearance of a state senator who was not informed of the “deal” by the chairman in their economic meeting.

Residents of the Springhill community received support from the “New Newton County GOP Party” and the Newton Conservative Liberty Alliance as well as other independent and grassroots individuals who reside throughout the county. While this issue rests at the front door of Springhill, it is an issue that will affect all Newton County residents.

With the activities of this board, one can’t help but wonder if palms are being greased and money is being shuffled for support of the deal through a newly formed entity. Last night’s application of the brakes, with one commissioner evoking emotion by claiming to want to make a good decision where she could look a friend’s child in the face, might be nothing more than lip service to ease tensions with residents who are feeling frustrated and possibly slighted by the board’s activities. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched since the activities of the county attorney of almost 40 years has been exposed and condoned and supported by the Board in retaining his services as county attorney.

For now, the landfill issue remains ongoing until an independent review and input from the citizen committee, which might take until June before the Springhill Community and Ms. Mullens learn the outcome.

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