Newton County has 60 days to come up with a solution to its landfill crisis or face costly litigation and possibly the construction of a private, regional landfill. The head of the East Georgia Land & Development Company announced his intention this week to seek damages and a new landfill permit in response to the county’s failure to approve a settlement.
East Georgia, which recently won a lawsuit against the county, had entered into an agreement with Green Hill P3, a newly formed landfill operator, to drop its case against the county in exchange for the county agreeing to lease its landfill to Green Hill. Under the proposed settlement, the county would have used those lease payments to buy 424 acres of East Georgia’s land where the company had intended to build its landfill.
On Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners responded to public outcry that the deal was moving too fast and agreed to table the vote for two months in order to allow an independent review and citizens committee to scrutinize the deal and propose alternatives.
“That deal for East Georgia no longer exists,” Jim Baker, president of East Georgia, told The News. “I am extremely disappointed in the fact that I was led to believe for the past eight months that the BOC and the county representatives were working with [attorney] Bob Norman on a settlement…I’m not sure what people have been doing for the past eight months.”
“Commissioners act like they just found this out,” he continued.
“We will seek damages from the county, and we also will be seeking our permit [to build a landfill],” Baker said. He added, however, that should Green Hill come back with a counter offer after two months, he would “be open” to hearing it.
County Manager Tom Garrett, who has been tasked with leading the independent review, said he had not heard from Green Hill or East Georgia that the deal was off.
Tee Stribling of Green Hill played down Baker’s rebuff, striking a hopeful note.
“What is imperative now is that Green Hill work with the county and negotiate an agreement that we can then go back and negotiate with East Georgia,” said Stribling. “I am confident that a negotiated settlement can be reached between all parties.”
In regards to the timeline of negotiations, Stribling confirmed that he has been in talks with “an assortment of county officials” since mid-2014.
When pressed as to whom exactly he had been negotiating with, Stribling said, “We had a lot of meetings with a lot of people.”
Commissioner Nancy Schulz said the first she heard of a settlement was in November, and that the final document was only presented a few weeks ago at the solid waste work session.
Green Hill and East Georgia maintain that the settlement would offer a solution to all of Newton County’s landfill problems. East Georgia bought the 424 parcel, which is located next to the county landfill, in the 1980s, and recently won the right to apply for a landfill permit. Under the settlement, East Georgia would have agreed not to seek damages or build a new landfill, while Green Hill would have taken over operation of the county landfill, which is costing the county millions and needs to be upgraded to address air and groundwater contamination.
The proposal, however, has faced pushback from the public, particularly the residents of the Springhill community, which is located next to the landfill. One of the ways Green Hill plans to make the landfill profitable is by opening it up to waste from anywhere in Georgia, and disposing of at least 1000 tons a day—four times what the county currently disposes on a daily basis. Residents have voiced concern over the environmental impact and affect on property values, as well as the loss of accountability or control if the government were to lease the landfill to a third party.
The Springhill community, which is predominantly African American, has vowed to seek out its own legal representation if needed, and community leaders continue to organize around the issue. Thy Brothers and Sisters’ Keeper radio program is planning a sunrise prayer service around the landfill on Easter Sunday morning, from Mote Road to the Bypass Road.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Levie Maddox, who represents the district where the landfill is located, sought to assure residents that the board was responsive to their concerns.
“After reflecting on comments over the last week, from citizens and business owners, it is important to say clearly that this Board has listened to their concerns and will apply those concerns as we move forward,” Maddox said. “I believe the citizens and the overall community recognize that there are significant financial challenges within our solid waste management model.”
“But, most importantly, the citizens do not believe the current proposal will dramatically improve our situation and want other options explored.”
Commissioner John Douglas proposed the formation of a citizen committee to research the issue.
The citizen committee will include one citizen appointed by each commissioner and the chairman. Their meetings will be facilitated by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
The motion passed 4-1, with Commissioner J.C. Henderson dissenting in favor of an immediate ‘no’ vote.
Stribling said his Green Hill team was “disappointed” in the outcome, but added, “We understand the process.”