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This Story Illustrates the Economics of Shipping Waste Long Distances

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

October 24, 2003

MAKING ROOM FOR GARBAGE: Landfill battles pile up

Rural areas targeted for urban trash

Jeffry Scott - Staff

Mauk --- Locals refer to it as Trash Mountain. They joke that the growing heap of refuse and dirt on the western end of Taylor County would make a good ski slope if it just snowed enough here.

But the Taylor County landfill in Middle Georgia is far less picturesque and more practical than such fancy would suggest.

The 120-foot-high, 90-acre mound of compacted trash could become the destination for 5,000 tons of commercial and residential garbage generated every day by the city of Atlanta.

At about 1,500 acres (more than 2 square miles), the Taylor County dump is the largest landfill in the state and already accepts trash shipped by railcar from as far away as Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York City.

Now its owner, garbage giant Allied Waste of Phoenix, wants Atlanta to hop aboard the trash train.

The company is pushing for permission to build a $00 million waste transfer station on 20 acres on the west end of Atlanta from which it would ship Atlanta trash by train to rural Taylor County, about 90 miles to the south.

The battle is the latest in an escalating conflict involving landfill companies and the cities and counties of rural Georgia as Atlanta and other big cities seek places to stash their trash.

The rural counties, lacking political and economic clout and without zoning to keep out landfills, have been drawn into legal battles often costing thousands of dollars in legal fees and dragging on for years.

So far, Atlanta officials have spurned Allied's plan. The city's planning department recently recommended that the zoning board deny the permit to build the station.

Earlier this month, all three members of the Taliaferro County Commission went to jail for defying a judge's order to let an Atlanta company, Complex Environmental Inc., go ahead with a plan to build a 1,000-acre landfill in the county 80 miles east of Atlanta.

After a night in jail, the commissioners caved in and approved zoning for the new landfill. Commission Chairman Charles Ware vowed to continue fighting the landfill on environmental grounds.

Meanwhile, Complex Environmental is pursuing the permit it needs from the state's Environmental Protection Division to start building the landfill in Taliaferro.

Trash vs. space

The district manager for Allied Waste, Ernest Kaufmann, said Atlanta faces what every large city inevitably faces: an inability to dispose of its trash within its own borders.

"Atlanta is going to run out of landfill space in two years, and there is no landfill [with extra capacity] within 25 miles of the city," he said.

With the impending filling of Atlanta's main trash disposal site, the Live Oak landfill, as soon as 2004, the city could face a trash crisis that rivals its sewer crisis.

Allied proposes to bring garbage collected around the city to the transfer station it wants to build.

There the trash would be loaded onto rail cars from trucks inside a huge building with circulated, filtered air, making the operation virtually odorless to neighbors, said Kaufmann.

The proposed transfer station, near the Fulton County Jail, would fill about 40 railcars each day with Atlanta garbage and send them to the Taylor County landfill. That landfill has enough capacity to handle Atlanta's trash for 60 years, said Kaufmann.

The Taylor County dump was opened in 1990 and has generated about $.1 million in revenue for the county during the past two years for the estimated 2 million tons of garbage shipped and buried there.

Allied district manager Mike Shattles said he is proud of how cleanly he runs the landfill. There is almost no stench on top of the hill as trucks dump garbage.

At the rail station about an eighth of a mile away, Shattles points at a long line of cars loaded with refuse containers and describes how stealthily the garbage has been shipped such great distances.

"That covered container came from Miami and nobody even knew it was garbage," he says. "There's no smell and you can't see it until they dump it on the hill."

The trash is compacted to one-third its volume by a 120,000-pound bulldozer-like machine that rolls back and forth across the refuse after it is dumped on top of the hill.

The Taylor County landfill initially was opposed by environmentalists and others. After losing that battle, they have united in opposition to new landfills.

Brenda Carroll of Roberta spearheaded opposition to the Peach Hill landfill, which is proposed by the same Atlanta developer, David Aldridge, who is behind the Taliaferro County landfill.

Carroll says she doesn't believe developers when they say new liners mandated by federal and state regulators will keep toxins from leaking into the ground and water near the landfills.

"There are places where landfills might make sense," she said, "but this isn't one of them. We are in a water recharge area, the water is too close to the surface. We are going to fight it every inch of the way."

The state Department of Transportation denied the developer's plan for the Peach County landfill, saying it would be too close to an airport. The developer has appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Mark Woodall, an anti-landfill activist with the Sierra Club, says rural counties are being taken advantage of because they not only lack zoning power and the political clout and savvy to fight landfills, but they also need the money the landfills generate.

"That's what landfill operators look for," said Woodall. "No money and no zoning."

The developers say the landfills are safe and can be a huge boon to local economies.

Dick Wilson, a lawyer for Complex Environmental Inc., said income from the Taliaferro County landfill would be triple the county's annual budget, under the company's original proposal.

But when the County Commission fought the landfill, Complex reduced the compensation it is offering. By state law, a landfill is required to give at least $ to the county and 50 cents to the state for each ton of waste it handles, said Wilson.

In Sparta, about 70 miles east of Atlanta, Lillie Webb is organizing opposition to a landfill in Hancock County that has yet to be officially proposed.

The developer, she says, is scheduled to go before the local zoning board in November. She fears the County Commission will endorse the plan because the landfill will generate money and jobs.

"The commissioners say they want a healthy economy," Webb said. "But landfills are toxic. And you can't have a healthy economy if you don't have healthy people, can you?"


AVOC COMMENT: This story highlights the concerns of many about the proposed Landfill in Walton and Oconee Counties. While it is a Construction and Demolition Landfill, it will be less trouble to convert to a sanitary landfill in the future- regardless of promises by current developers. It is hard to know who will be operating the facility two years from now.

Neither Walton or Oconee are without zoning. Neither is small. Neither is poor. Both need leadership to do what is right.

Wendell Dawson, Editor