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Solid waste report calls for county to get out of landfill business
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Five recommendations have come out of the Newton County Citizens’ Solid Waste Committee, which presented a draft of its report on Aug. 27 at the County Administration Building.

The committee was formed in April and tasked by the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) with reviewing the county’s current solid waste management and proposing alternative solutions if needed.

Chair Wayne Haynie told the audience that this would be the final meeting of the committee, adding that members of the committee had met with several municipal solid waste experts and visited a number of municipal landfills, including Lamar County’s Cedar Grove Landfill, an award-winning, state-of-the-art facility that is operated by the Lamar County Regional Solid Waste Authority without property tax funding.

The recommendations include establishing a Newton County Solid Waste Authority, similar to the existing Newton County Water and Sewage Authority; phasing out convenience centers and moving towards curbside pickup of all waste; separating out recyclable materials to reduce waste load on landfill capacity; and redevelopment of the landfill for public use such as a regional park.

According to the report, while the landfill could support itself if properly managed, it is currently losing money due to subsidies to the convenience centers where county residents can dispose of waste for free and failure to strictly collect all fees.

“Our landfill can support itself,” Haynie said. “There is a cost stream that could provide a net income.

“I think the Board of Commissioners would agree that decisions that should have been made weren’t,” he said. “When I say BOC, I’m not talking just about our current BOC. Our landfill has been in operation for 30 years. We’ve been ducking and dodging [making decisions] for years now. It’s time to do something.”

The committee recommends that the Board of Commissions “transition out of the business of county collection centers, transportation and landfill operation.”

Instead, the committee recommends that the Board of Commissioners develop legislation to form an independent Solid Waste Authority.

Member Sharon Sawyer, who lives in the Spring Hill community adjacent to the landfill, disagreed with the recommended formation of authority, asking who would decide who served on the board.

“I’m totally disappointed with the BOC, past and present,” she said. “For the county commissioners to be in charge of the landfill is a disaster.

Decisions, she said, have been made without involving the Spring Hill Community, one of the oldest African-American communities in the county, formed shortly after the end of the Civil War and abolition of slavery.

“I have to get up every morning and smell that landfill, hear the trucks, see the trash,” she said. “We’ve been dumped on and dumped on and dumped on.”

Sawyer was told that the legislation to form the authority could be written so that members would be appointed not only by county commissioners, but by Newton County cities, representatives from various groups within the community and other stakeholders.

Brenda Mullins, another committee member, said that while she agreed that the people of Spring Hill had been treated unfairly, she thought the formation of an independent authority, one that doesn’t change with the commissioners, was a positive step forward. “It’s obvious to everyone in this room that the BOC hasn’t done a good job. What we have now, we know isn’t working.

“I see adopting the Lamar [County] model as a way to move forward,” she said.

“Government is not always the answer to everything,” Haynie said. “However, having an efficient, well-run authority could work.”

The committee’s is also recommending that the convenience centers eventually be closed and the county move to curb side waste removal through private companies. According to the report, the convenience centers are costing the county about $2 million a year. To prevent abuse of the system by people from outside the county using the centers, every visitor would be required to show a personal picture identification, such as a driver’s license, showing a Newton County address

“Every citizen of this county is paying for the convenience center,” said member Denny Dobbs. “We’re already paying for it through taxes. Most communities have gone away from them [convenience centers].”

Eventually, the convenience centers would be phased out, replaced by curb side pickup, with a specific number of tires and bulk waste taken to the landfill for no charge to those who have paid their trash bills.

Developing technology has made the burning of some waste materials with no emissions possible. The gasses produced in the process can be isolated and sold as an energy source.

“There is a place where waste and energy cross, where waste is harvested for energy,” Haynie said.

Finally, the committee is recommending the creation of a public use facility, such as a regional park, once the landfill has closed. Though the landfill cannot be closed in the foreseeable future, the report said, environmental issues can be mitigated if “we proceed with the corrective action plan contained in our EPD permit. For example, the Corrective Action Plan will increase buffers and eventually shield the community from the current view.”

The report will be submitted to the BOC for consideration.