COVINGTON - The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted down a controversial proposal to lease the county landfill to a private startup Wednesday night following passionate testimony from the affected community, environmentalists and concerned citizens.
The audience erupted in cheers as two out of three commissioners voted to "eliminate Green Hill P3 from consideration in the process of determining the future of our Newton County solid waste disposal site."
The motion made by District 1 Commissioner John Douglas also instructed a citizen solid waste panel created to study the issue to "continue with their efforts...to protect the Spring Hill community, stop the loss of revenue...and...find a model of how to manage our solid waste disposal site and/or search out other companies that may be willing to provide a bid for services to Newton County."
District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims voted in favor of Douglas' motion, with District 5 Commissioner J.C. Henderson voting against it.
Commissioner Nancy Schulz left Wednesday's meeting early but expressed support for Douglas' motion before her departure. Commissioner Levie Maddox was not at Wednesday's meeting.
In addition to taking over operation of and upgrades to the county landfill, Green Hill was also offering to resolve a lawsuit with the East Georgia Land & Development Company, which, in 2013, won a 17-year legal battle for documentation from the county that would allow it to apply to build a private landfill on a large tract it had acquired next to the county landfill.
East Georgia announced Wednesday that it would move forward with plans to build a private landfill and seek damages from the county following Green Hill's decision to pull its proposal before Wednesday's vote.
East Georgia is demanding that Newton County hand over the compliance letter ordered by the judge in 2013. This letter should be handed over by July 10, 2015, or East Georgia will make the necessary motions to seek compulsion of compliance and possible sanctions, according to the letter sent to the county's attorneys.
East Georgia also demands a letter stating that East Georgia's use of its property as a sanitary landfill is not contrary to any validly adopted multijurisdictional solid waste plan in effect on June 25, 1997 (when East Georgia first sought a letter of compliance).
Opponents of Green Hill P3 far outnumbered the few who spoke out in favor of an amended proposal from the company that would have granted the Spring Hill community, which is located next to the landfill, a park with amenities, including a community center.
"We feel insulted that Green Hill would think that offering a park, community center and a 50-acre parcel of land would offset them bringing in triple the trash," said Egeniece Lackey, who lives in Spring Hill and recently bought land there to build her "dream home."
Lackey went on to say that the local community should not have to pay the price for the "mismanagement" of the landfill or the fact that it lost the East Georgia lawsuit.
"We, the Spring Hill community, demand that you repair and correct the existing problems at the landfill" and explore green options, she said. "If the county is not capable of handling their landfill and their lawsuit, we, the Spring Hill community, want the county to open the process so that companies other than Green Hill can present their proposals on how they would make corrections and handle our future waste."
Lackey then asked those in agreement to stand, leaving very few in their seats.
Other speakers accused Green Hill of "divisive" tactics that pit family members against each other in its campaign to gain support in Spring Hill.
Those in favor of Green Hill's amended proposal expressed skepticism toward the county based on its history. The Environmental Protection Division has approved a corrective action plan for groundwater and air contamination at the landfill, but the county has made little if any progress towards completing the first step, which must be done by 2017.
"It was either Green Hill or the county, and the county has had this problem for 20 years and hasn't done anything," said Charles Johnson. "Whoever comes in, they are not going to do anything for this community."