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County hears landfill deal
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The Board of Commissioners heard Tuesday a proposed set of agreements intended to solve the county's waste management problems, as concerned citizens pressed for more options.

The proposal would hand management of the county landfill over to a private company and use the money from that lease to purchase an adjacent 424 acre plot from the East Georgia Land and Development Company, which recently won the right to apply to build a private landfill there. The total purchase, paid out over several years, would cost the county $8.5 million with 2% interest.

The landfill currently runs at a deficit, and has cost the county over $7 million over the past five years, according to numbers presented by County Manager Tom Garrett. Several members of the board have voiced support for a public-private partnership that would absolve the county of having to pay tens of millions to upgrade, maintain and eventually close the landfill.

Under the proposed agreement, the private operator, Green Hill P3, would take on those costs with the operation of the landfill, although the county would still have to pay $1.5 million towards the installation of a gas collection system.

Green Hill would pay the county $1 per ton in host fees to be adjusted after eight years and every two years after (but raised by no more than 4% above the previous rate); $1 per ton for the lease to be paid quarterly; 25 cents per ton to the proposed solid waste authority; and $125,000 to be matched by the county for community projects in addition to 10 cents per ton towards the same after 1,250,000 tons of acceptable solid waste have been recieved and disposed of in the landfill. The lease would remain in effect for 25 years with two possible extensions of ten years.

The county would pay $10 per ton in tipping fees for the first three years and $32 per ton after that. The municipalities of Covington, Mansfield, Newborn, Oxford, and Porterdale would recieve substantially similar terms.

While the proposed agreement would certainly save the county in the short term, some residents questioned whether the board had been thorough in exploring all available options. The agreement would allow Green Hill to truck in trash from anywhere in Georgia, a lucrative opportunity with average state tipping fees in the mid $30's.

Tonya Bechtler, county citizen and chair of the Yellow River Trail, asked why the county was not considering more bids before rushing to sign an agreement with one company. She also suggested the county hire an independent consultant to represent its interests because one of the primary architects of the plan was a consultant for Green Hill, a claim that could not be independently verified as the commissioners retired to an executive session.

About a dozen residents who live and own property next to the landfill were also in attendence. Charles Johnson accused the board of ignoring the damage that has already been done by the landfill, which is in violation of environmental standards.

"Where do you live? You don't live out there with it," he said, pointing out that the neighborhood was largely black.

Speaking after the meeting, Willie Johnson said he would not be satisfied until the landfill was closed. He said that his representative, Commissioner Levie Maddox, was unresponsive.

Aaron Belanger, another resident of Lower River Road, where the landfill is located, said placing a landfill next to a river was like building "a strip club next to city hall."

"It would be nice to see two or three bids," said Belanger. "I'm still not convinced who Green Hill P3 is."

County Attorney Tommy Craig took the opportunity to set the record straight regarding his role in the county's waste woes, providing the board with a 2003 document prepared by his office proposing a similar public-private partnership that was apparently rejected by the board at that time.

For more on this story and other items discussed in the meeting, pick up this Sunday's edition of The News.