EDITORIAL: A vexing problem that finally needs solution

When we talk about garbage and landfills, let’s be serious. Out of sight, out of mind. Once our trash has been picked up, we don’t really care where it goes, we just don’t want to see -- or smell it -- again. Government leaders know this, too, so it’s hard for them to get the electorate fired up about spending millions of dollars to close, monitor and open a new landfill or pay to ship refuse somewhere else.

The Macon Landfill has had various projections of remaining life almost from the day it opened in 1962. Due to changes in environmental standards, the unlined landfill has been a thorn in the side of city leaders for decades. In 1993, many of Georgia’s 181 municipal solid waste landfills were just big holes in the ground, according to Telegraph archives, that let liquid from poisonous garbage seep into the water supply. The federal government stepped in and almost half of the state’s landfills shut down. The new requirements of plastic-lined landfills and monitoring were beyond the financial wherewithal of many areas. Thus was born the idea of regional landfills.

Bibb County and the city of Macon were members of the Piedmont Regional Solid Waste Commission, along with Hancock, Jasper, Putnam and Jones counties, that studied the regional concept and whether it could make money. Yes, there’s gold in garbage. The regional idea never took hold here, partly because of factionalism and because no community wants to see itself as a regional dumping ground. An additional landfill proposal in east Macon took a decade to resolve. Area residents around the Swift Creek facility are still smarting from the result, whereas another landfill proposal near Mead Road in south Macon met with stiff opposition in 1998 but with a much different outcome.

In 2004, then-Mayor C. Jack Ellis said he wanted to close the landfill before he left office in 2008. To take a step back, the city did have a special fund set aside to begin financing the closing, but money was withdrawn from the fund to keep from raising property taxes in 2003.

Now the landfill is in the forefront yet again. It has failed Environmental Protection Division inspections in April and June. Heads have rolled, new leadership and procedures have been put in place and it appears that when the EPD returns this month, inspectors should be pleased with the progress. However, the fact remains the landfill needs to close. We know that. We’ve known that. The estimated cost is $9.3 million. While it’s not on the average taxpayer’s mind now, it ought to be. Our elected leaders need to lead. This can has been kicked too many times.