EDITORIAL: Landfill issues have been hiding in plain sight for decades

February 16, 2014 

It’s no secret that the Macon-Bibb County landfill is a problem that has been lurking, not in the shadows, but in plain sight. The city government couldn’t maintain a plan for the landfill, and it has had a wide variance as to how much life remains.

It would cost millions of dollars to close, and we just keep piling dirt over garbage day after day and hope for the best. The proceeds from the city’s recycling program were supposed to go into a fund to help pay for closing the landfill. That fund slowly dwindled as did the recycling program.

Now the ball is in the commission’s court -- and unfortunately, the meter is running. The state Environmental Protection Division has signaled it’s about to come down with a hammer. Seems the problems exposed in inspections have not been addressed. The last fine of $35,000 in October 2011 was levied for similar violations found in the Jan. 23 inspection.

So what is the commission to do? A better question is what will Mayor Robert Reichert do? Department heads have already been put on notice that they will have to reapply for their positions in the new consolidated government.

Public Works Director Richard Powell has a history with the mayor, a history that does not bode well for him in this situation. Reichert fired Powell, but through the appeals process, had to reinstate him by order of City Council. That appeals process is now history.

It’s our guess that Powell is on a short leash. Reichert does not want to upset the kumbaya spirit of the new commission over a personnel issue, nor does he want to reopen a settled case without due cause and make it appear as a vendetta.

That said, both County Manager Dale Walker and Assistant County Manager Steve Layson have a responsibility to see that the landfill issues are addressed before another, even larger EPD fine lands on their desks. They need to make sure Powell has resources at his disposal to be successful, but if he is not the right person to lead the department, it would be better to end the relationship before taxpayers have to take it on the chin again.

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