New com­mit­tee ready to study land­fill prob­lem

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - MERIS LUTZ mlutz@cov­news.com

The cit­i­zen com­mit­tee to study the county’s land­fill prob­lem is ready and rar­ing to go, com­mit­tee mem­ber Denny Dobbs said Fri­day, just a few days af­ter ques­tions were raised by county com­mis­sion­ers re­gard­ing the scope and clar­ity of its mission.

“The peo­ple that were ap­pointed, they’re tak­ing it se­ri­ously and we’re ready to go as soon as we get the go ahead,” Dobbs said.

Due to sched­ul­ing con­flicts, the first meet­ing had been pushed back from a ten­ta­tive April 8 start date, lead­ing to some con­fu­sion among cit­i­zens who had hoped to at­tend. The county is in talks with the Uni­ver­sity of Ge­or­gia’s Carl Vin­son In­sti­tute of Gov­ern­ment to me­di­ate for an es­ti­mated $10,000 to $15,000, although no for­mal agree­ment has been reached.

The com­mit­tee has been charged with re­view­ing the county’s solid waste man­age­ment strat­egy to try and come up with a so­lu­tion that will elim­i­nate the deficit in­curred by the land­fill and 11 free con­ve­nience cen­ters. The com­mit­tee will also have to con­tend with a loom­ing law­suit from the East Ge­or­gia Land & Devel­op­ment com­pany, which is threat­en­ing to sue for dam­ages if the county does not agree to lease its land­fill to a pri­vate third party, Green Hill P3.

Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz ini­ti­ated a dis­cus- sion Tues­day at the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers’ meet­ing in an at­tempt to clar­ify the com­mit­tee’s scope of work and de­ter­mine whether or not a pro­posed deal with East Ge­or­gia and Green Hill is off the ta­ble.

“We need to give that com­mit­tee some di­rec­tion so that when they come back to us…we know ex­actly what ac­tion to take,” she said.

Un­der the pro­posed agree­ment, the county would lease its land­fill to Green Hill, and use the pay­ments to buy 424 acres from East Ge­or­gia where it had planned to build a pri­vate land­fill. In or­der to make the land­fill prof­itable, Green Hill will more than quadru­ple the amount of waste dis­posed of daily, tak­ing in garbage from sur­round­ing coun­ties. It could also ap­ply to ex­pand the foot­print of the land­fill.

Green Hill, which has been act­ing as a go-be­tween for the county the East Ge­or­gia, is still hop­ing to reach an agree­ment with all par­ties, but East Ge­or­gia Pres­i­dent Jim Baker has told both lo­cal pa­pers that as far as he is con­cerned, the deal is off the ta­ble.

County Manager Tom Gar­rett said he has not heard from Green Hill that it has with­drawn its of­fer.

Schulz sug­gested the com­mit­tee look at ways New­ton County can op­er­ate its own land­fill with re­spect to the en­vi­ron­ment and sur­round­ing com­mu­nity, as well as ways the re­cy­cling cen­ters could be op­er­ated to avoid sub­sidy from the Gen­eral Fund. Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son re­it­er­ated his readi­ness to vote ‘No’ im­me­di­ately, while Com­mis­sioner Lanier Sims ques­tioned whether the Board was at­tempt­ing to pass its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties off on cit­i­zens. Com­mis­sioner John Dou­glas urged his fel­low com­mis­sion­ers to give the com­mit­tee a chance and “have some trust in the peo­ple of this county.”

In a fol­low-up e-mail, Sims em­pha­sized that he sup­ports cit­i­zen en­gage­ment, af­ter some took um­brage at his com­ments Tues­day.

“I have had cit­i­zens come to me and say ‘I elected you to make de­ci­sions for me not some­one else’,” he wrote. “With that be­ing said they and I want cit­i­zen en­gage­ment and I think we should have this by hav­ing more com­mu­nity meet­ings and get­ting more in­for­ma­tion out to the peo­ple so they can be in­formed.”

“The big thing I don’t want this board to do with hot top­ics is to just [not] deal with it and form a com­mit­tee,” he added.

Bob Stafford, who is also on the cit­i­zen com­mit­tee, said he felt the com­mit­tee’s man­date was clear.

“I would ex­pect that go­ing for­ward as we meet we will iden­tify the op­tions and nail them down so when we go back to the com­mis­sion­ers we can tell them where they can go and where they might want to go,” he said. “We’re all ded­i­cated to that mission.”

The first land­fill meet­ing is ten­ta­tively sched­uled for April 22.

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