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Clash headed to litigation over inert landfill in watershed
Big Haynes Creek Watershed area in yellow; Randy Poynter Reservoir in red. - photo by Wikimapia

Randy Poynter Lake/Reservoir and Water Intake Timeline

1976 -
Commissioner Heywood "Woody" Woodward hired an engineering firm to assess the potential of Big Haynes Creek for a water supply source for Rockdale County

1978 - The engineering report as well as an EPA study were positive enough for the Woodward administration to request the Atlanta Regional Commission to add Big Haynes Creek to the Regional Water Supply Plan for Rockdale County.

1981 - The Charles Smith administration requested the Environmental Protection Division to reclassify Big Haynes Creek from "Fishing" to "Drinking Water Supply."

1982 - 7600 acres in the upper Big Haynes Watershed were rezoned to "Watershed Protection." EPD acknowledged this act was significant protection for future water supply.

1985-1986 - The Environmental Protection Division gave active support to diverting upstream wastewater projects away from the Big Haynes basin.

1987 - Senator Harrill Dawkins introduced legislation that created the Conyers-Rockdale Big Haynes Creek Impoundment Authority.

1989 - The Randolph "Randy" Poynter administration proposed the reservoir be funded by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which was approved by the voters of Rockdale. $8.7 million was raised for building the reservoir.

1992 - The US Corps of Engineers issued a permit to build the dam and reservoir.

1994 - 5200 acres in the lower Big Haynes and Little Haynes Creek watershed were rezoned to watershed Protection. Active land acquisition went forward; ground was broken for the reservoir.

1995 - The Rockdale County Water and Sewerage Authority was created by the General Assembly of Georgia.

1996 - Construction began on the reservoir dam. In December of 1996, the water/sewer distribution/ collection system and sewer plants were bought from the Conyers by Rockdale County Water & Sewerage Authority.

1998 - The lake and dam were dedicated. To finish the lake and reservoir required an additional $13.3 million in bonded debt.

2000 - Construction on a water treatment and distribution facilities began, funded by a $50 million SPLOST tax passed in 1998 during the Norman Wheeler administration.

2002 - Rockdale residents began drinking water from the new potable water treatment plant.


Source: Elaine Nash, 11/13/2008


The dispute over a decades-old inert landfill in the north Rockdale reservoir watershed may be heading to court as Rockdale County and the private landfill's owners, Jonny and Lynn Brown, remain at loggerheads.

During a Thursday meeting of the Rockdale County Water and Sewerage Authority, members discussed a draft letter to the Environmental Protection Division regarding the permit application of J.A. Brown Grading Inc., a grading and hauling company on Chandler Road in north Rockdale, for a 3.2-acre inert landfill on 83 acres of private property.

An inert landfill is composed of non-decomposing, earth-like material such as concrete, asphalt, dirt, rocks and tree branches, which does not produce leachate that can seep into groundwater.

There are about 25 inert landfills in Rockdale, according to the EPD, with 14 of them still active and 11 closed. Most are private, such as J.A Brown Grading, and many are associated with subdivision construction in the Brentwood neighborhood. There are also inert lanfills at Rockdale County Public Works and Town and Country Truck on Iris Drive. There are six private inert landfills in Newton County, all still active, according to the EPD.

"We asked that this permit not be exchanged or renewed," said Elaine Nash, chair of the Watershed Subcommittee, at Thursday's meeting. The WSA's mission was "to look after the current and future water quality" of the county, she said.

The business's co-owner Lynn Brown, said they had been in contact with EPD inspectors. "I spoke to Chad Hall Friday afternoon. He said, as far as EPD is concerned, my inert landfill has met all the requirements," she said.

"I will fight this," continued Brown. "EPD has told me what my options are. I will take this to litigation." Later she added that the county has lately had to spend substantial amounts of money in litigation and settlements for zoning issues.

"This won't put you out of business," said Nash.

"It will dampen my business," said Brown.

"You will have to change your business," replied Nash.

"I'm not going to do that," said Brown. "I will fight you in litigation."

The Environmental Protection Division of Georgia recently changed the regulations governing inert landfills. Previously, it had been permitted on a case by case basis, as long as the county determined zoning regulations were followed. Under the new rules, inert landfill owners had to reapply for permits and landfills will be more closely monitored by EPD.

Jonny Brown said he had spent $4,000 to provide studies and documentation for the application. "We all had to hire a civil engineer and get them to come out, survey the landfill, calculate how much has been inputted over the years and what the end result it would be when it was finished."

The Browns' private landfill, which had been in use since the 1950s when Jonny's father operated the business, is estimated to have about 52,000 tons of material added since 1993. Jonny Brown said there's only about 20 more feet available in the private landfill, which will be covered with dirt and grassed over when it is full. "Basically we started filing in a hole," said Jonny Brown. "That's all we were doing." The Browns live on the property with their sons' families and draw their drinking water from three wells on the property. A lake is also located next to the inert landfill.

The Browns had sued the county for a business license in 1993 and a court order signed by then-State Court Judge William Todd grandfathered in the property as long as the business and landfill remained within specified parameters.

Lynn Brown, who worked at the business since 1972 when she and Jonny married, and said she had brought 20 years' worth of documentation to then-county attorney John Nix.

Nash said an inert landfill was not a permitted use under the county's zoning regulations when the Browns received their EPD permit in 1993 and the county should not have allowed it.

Nash said she knew about the Browns' business and inert landfill but began looking into it after hearing complaints about the business's truck traffic. Lynn Brown attended a Watershed Subcommittee meeting and said they had a 1993 court order and they were grandfathered in with a non-conforming use compliance.

"Rockdale County as far as I remember never had any permitted uses of inert landfills," said Nash. However, the early 1990s was a busy time in the county as the reservoir was being built and the county and city were trying to host an Olympic venue; the matter may have not gotten as much attention as it deserved, said Nash.

Lynn Brown later replied, "Her opinion of what John Nix should have done is immaterial to me."

About 12,000 acres lie within the Big Haynes Creek protected watershed area, which drains to the Randy Poynter Reservoir where Rockdale Water Resources draws its drinking water. Other landfills for household trash, such as one on Miller Bottom Road, were closed as the county built its drinking water reservoir and rezoned areas to protect the watershed.

"My landfill is not doing anything," said Lynn Brown. "We've followed all the requirements. All this is just political posturing and payback." Lynn Brown is Chair of the Rockdale Republican Party and Jonny Brown is the Republican Party appointee to the Rockdale County Board of Elections.