Twiggs County landfill fight sparks recall campaign

A controversial Twiggs County landfill expansion project will get a state-required review, while disputes over the expansion have helped launch a recall campaign against County Commission Chairman Ray Bennett.

County commissioners had been scheduled to talk about the Wolf Creek Landfill Aug. 1, but they received word the same day that they had to follow a Development of Regional Impact law or risk losing their status as a government.

The fight against the landfill is largely on environmental grounds. Landfill opponents such as retiree Walt Ashby said commissioners should have heard from the people who had shown up at the commissioner’s meeting to talk. Ashby decided to launch the recall campaign hours later.

“The only thing that would have caused a (legal) problem is if they’d voted on it, and there was no intent to vote on it,” he said.

Much has happened since then. County officials have filed a Development of Regional Impact application. A landfill opponent filed another such form to correct perceived errors in the first. The second DRI application was thrown out. And the Middle Georgia Regional Commission scheduled training on the DRI process, which on large projects requires comments from neighboring governments and agencies.

Regional Commission Executive Director Ralph Nix said the DRI review likely will take 45 to 60 days, with surrounding governments such as Bibb and Wilkinson counties being asked for their opinions, as well as other agencies such as the Georgia Department of Transportation. The Regional Commission decides whether developments are in the best interests of the state.

Planning and Zoning Director Terry Bates said commissioners won’t vote on the project until they hear from the regional commission.

The county’s DRI application submitted describes the project as 235.77 acres used as “soil borrow areas for soil material required for use in the current landfill operation at the adjoining tract.” Bates said Wolf Creek Landfill LLC applied to rezone that piece of land as industrial but also applied for a conditional-use permit that would allow that new land to also be turned into a landfill.

The existing landfill is about 135 acres and would nearly triple in size to about 370 acres. The landfill is ultimately owned by Advanced Disposal of Jacksonville, Fla.

Bennett and County Administrator Glenn Barton did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.

@BR Body Subhed:Fears, anger rising

The prospect of a busier landfill is raising hackles in Twiggs County. The planning and zoning commission has recommended, in a 5-0 vote, against the plans.

Meanwhile, a petition drive has collected more than 800 signatures, said Tracie Fountain, the drive’s organizer who now wants to recall two commissioners — Bennett and Donald Floyd — because of their handling of the landfill plan. Fountain said the commissioners knew they needed to file the DRI and didn’t, then pulled the landfill off their agenda.

“They could at least have had a public hearing and heard what we had to say about the matter,” she said. “They treated us with no respect.”

Fountain, who lives about a half-mile from the landfill, said Bennett and Floyd didn’t come to planning and zoning hearings or other informational meetings.

Ashby said he’s only starting an official recall campaign against Bennett but has heard talk of two other commissioners who could face recalls.

Then there’s Hilda Morris, a great-grandmother who said she only wants to keep one of the five: Tommie Lee Bryant, whose voice is drowned out by the others.

Bryant “sees and does what he thinks is right for the community, for Twiggs County citizens. And the other ones always vote against him, and he hasn’t got a chance,” Morris said.

@BR Body Subhed:Environmental worries

Chris Bowen, a semi-retired financial consultant, has been compiling data on the Wolf Creek Landfill. He thinks he knows where it points.

“Twiggs County is going to end up being a dump for all of Georgia, and it’s going to end up being a dump on top of a significant water recharge area for all of Georgia, which is not legal,” he said.

Bowen cites state laws, a Twiggs County Superior Court case and zoning laws to argue the landfill proposal is being misconstrued all along and that the current landfill is operating illegally. He is the person who filed the second DRI application to correct the first — because it doesn’t list the project as a landfill at all.

Bowen said Wolf Creek has been taking 10 times as much trash from far-off Augusta and Richmond County as it has been from Twiggs and Wilkinson counties, which it was originally built to serve. Such multi-county landfills aren’t allowed to run on top of the big water recharge areas.

“Our problem is the law clearly states that they can’t do what they want to do,” he said.

One recent test from under the landfill’s liner showed high levels of arsenic, lead and beryllium, Bowen said.

That makes Ashby worry that the existing landfill’s liner has already been breached. “We’ve got good water in Twiggs County, and we don’t need contaminated water,” he said. “Once your land is contaminated, your land is worthless.”

The Regional Commission hasn’t decided which area agencies will be asked to submit comments. Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, who often rails against the Swift Creek landfill in Bibb County, said he’s heard no complaints about the Wolf Creek landfill in Dry Branch.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. Telegraph writer Carl Lewis contributed to this report.