Politics & Government

Macon landfill undergoes sweeping changes in wake of failed inspections

Drastic changes are underway to bring Macon’s main landfill into compliance after back-to-back failed inspections.

The changes come as the landfill could receive another visit from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division in August after a litany of violations in a June inspection. Since then, measures to attack erosion have ramped up, personnel changes have been made and minor problems such as unmarked signs have been addressed, Macon-Bibb County officials said.

In April, the landfill received a score of 70, and a June 17 follow-up inspection earned a score of 50, or 25 points lower than a passing grade.

Kevin Barkley, solid waste director for Macon-Bibb, said Thursday he’s confident the landfill on Walker Swamp Road will pass its next inspection.

“The best thing for us is we have good weather and ideal working conditions,” he said.

Violations that led to the landfill being out of compliance included debris being in ditches, faded or unmarked survey markings and employees using an unapproved set of operating plans, according to the EPD.

A July 8 letter Barkley sent to the EPD outlined how Macon-Bibb is “aggressively” dealing with the violations. The letter included pictures of new survey markers, and the removal of woody vegetation from the landfill and garbage from a draining ditch.

Some long-term problems stem from erosion on the 100-acre landfill so more vegetation is being added, Barkley said.

Matting is being placed over dirt to hold seeds in place until the vegetation can grow.

“I’m trying to stay ahead of the game and on top of it,” Barkley said. “When I got here last year, the whole south slope was exposed waste.”

The EDP likely will have a check-up visit at the landfill in August, but it appears progress has been made since June, said Todd Bethune, district manager of the EPD West Central office in Macon.

A full inspection will come after the August visit, he said.

“They’re still working on some of the maintenance issues,” Bethune said. “They have basically completed about everything we’ve asked for.”

In the wake of the latest failed inspections, three supervisors have been fired or demoted.

Larry Dunning, the former assistant director of solid waste, was terminated because of policy violations related to the inspections. Waste Disposal Coordinator Lee Stringer also was fired. And Michael Schena was demoted because of violations related to the landfill inspections, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.

This month, Patricia Raines was named interim assistant director for solid waste, and Antonio “Fred” White was named assistant landfill manager, Barkley said.

Macon-Bibb has avoided fines for the latest violations but was fined $50,000 in 2014 and $35,000 in 2011 for landfill infractions.

A plan presented in April recommends shutting down the landfill, although it would take five years and $9.3 million to do so. Macon-Bibb officials also are looking into expanding curbside recycling and opening a recycling center.

Commissioner Al Tillman said he’s hopeful the personnel shake-up will lead to improved teamwork among some of the employees at the landfill.

“What I’m hoping for is others will step up in those roles because we can’t continue to be getting fined,” said Tillman, vice chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Commission’s Facilities and Engineering Committee. “We need others to perform at a higher level until we can close the landfill.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 477-4623.