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All options on the table for Solid Waste Panel

The solid waste citizen’s panel will explore all options, including closing the current landfill on Lower River Road, while emphasizing the need to reduce waste across the board, its members decided Thursday.

“We know the landfill cannot feasibly be closed, shut down right now, no questions,” said panel member Brenda Mullins of the Springhill community, which is adjacent to the landfill.

“We would welcome a plan to, first of all, reduce waste disposal, look at some type of alternative processes [such as] recycling…and look at closing that landfill somewhere within our lifetime,” she said.

The committee was at a loss for an alternative if the landfill were closed, but panel member Bob Stafford emphasized that all options should be on the table.

The panel is chaired by Wayne Hanie and includes Mullins, Stafford, Sharon Sawyer, Denny Dobbs, and Scott Willis.

The group convened for its second meeting in the County Administration Building, where members reviewed what is available of the current solid waste budget, the history of the landfill, the impact of potential expansion, and the desires of the affected community.

Several members acknowledged the daunting task ahead of the panel, which has been charged first with weighing a lease proposal with Green Hill P3, a private landfill operator, and then evaluating the county’s solid waste management.

“It’s a whole lot of data you got to go through, it almost takes a PhD to go through just one sheet,” said Sawyer.

The panel appeared to agree that much more information was needed both from the county and the experts and contractors who have worked on the landfill, including the recently resigned landfill manager James Peters.

The meeting kicked off with a budget presentation from Stafford, who identified the county’s free processing of waste and recyclables from the 11 convenience centers as particularly problematic.

Stafford said that the county was losing $2,158,592 a year on solid waste, $812,000 of which was for the operation of the recycling centers. That figure did not include the potential revenue lost from processing some 23,000 tons of waste for free, he said. The deficit in the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund is subsidized from the General Fund to the tune of $1.6 million a year.

“For the life of me I don’t understand why we give away that service,” said Stafford.

Under the Green Hill proposal, Stafford said, the county would continue to lose $2,300,000 a year, in addition to the $812,000 cost of operating the centers, which would also have to pay Green Hill the tipping fees that are not currently paid to the county.

“What was stressed to us from the commissioners was to not look at the convenience centers and to only look at the landfill,” said Tee Stribling of Green Hill, who also attended the meeting. “Obviously we’re not going to take that trash for free.”

“The commissioners were very adamant about that [leaving the convenience centers out of the proposal],” he added.

Stafford said he was waiting on the county for some final figures and still had questions about the finances and funding of the landfill and convenience centers.

Dobbs then explained the history of trash disposal in the county and the emergence, in the late eighties, of environmental regulations for landfills.

He recalled how local residents, with the help of the county, used to simply dump their garbage in trenches, which were periodically lit on fire to reduce the bulk of garbage. Eventually a permitted landfill was built on Lower River Road, but lining was not required until years later.

Now the county faces expensive upgrades and closure costs to bring the landfill up to standard according to an approved corrective action plan.

The panel also discussed the effect of another vertical expansion to the landfill, which Green Hill would likely pursue. Members decided they would hear alternative proposals from other private entities in order to form a basis for comparison.

Sawyer also reminded the panel that not only would the decision taken by the board on this issue affect the surrounding community, it would also have a lasting impact on the environment.

“You can’t recreate land; you can’t recreate clean water; you can’t recreate air,” she said. “Once that’s lost, it’s gone forever.”

The next meeting is scheduled for May 28 and will include facilitators from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.