New committee ready to study landfill problem
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County Manager Tom Garrett said he has not heard from Green Hill that it has withdrawn its offer.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.