Brantley County residents are still hoping to dispose of waste in a state EPD-approved landfill |
Aerial view of wetlands that would be filled in as part of a plan to build a landfill in Brantley County. Photo contributed by the Satilla Riverkeeper
By the time rural Brantley County residents realized a promising new project was a 100-acre landfill, it might have been too late.
Local officials said they were misled into believing the project was a waste incinerator. In 2014 and again in 2015, provincial chiefs issued letters when asked to say that a solid waste treatment facility would comply with local planning codes – approved district chiefs are now desperate to push back.
When the developer, Brantley County Development Partners, held a public hearing in late 2016, the group behind the Coastal Terrace development already had those crucial letters in hand to seek state approval. But around this point in the process, public attention was drawn to the project when about 200 people turned up for the hearing, which took place just days before Christmas.
Brantley County officials have asked the state’s Environmental Protection Department to discard these earlier permit letters, which they say are invalid. They imposed a temporary ban on landfills and updated their local zoning, preventing garbage from outside the county from being brought into the community. And in 2020, the GOP state legislatures representing the territory tried – failed Create a three-mile ban on landfills near the river Satilla.
District officials are now making final attempts to stop the dump after EPD signed the permit in May, over local objections, allowing the plant to be built and operated near the city of Nahunta. Of the 9,517 comments sent to EPD, only three supported the project.
They are asking a state administrative court to withdraw the permit so they can rework a project that has met with strong community backlash.
“Everyone is really angry, and rightly so, because they felt they didn’t have an opportunity to be heard and make meaningful comments, and they are absolutely right,” said Chris Bertrand, River Warden of the Satilla River.
“So people are crossing their fingers that we succeed in this litigation because it’s the community’s last chance to avoid a landfill in their backyards,” he said.
“Apparently deliberate escape”
The county has appealed the EPD’s decision to approve a solid waste handling permit for the landfill, a dispute that is now being fought before the Bureau of State Administrative Hearings. The Satilla Riverkeeper, a Waycross-based environmental agency, has submitted a brief in support of the county’s efforts.
Bertrand argues that the flood-prone area is a poor choice for a landfill because of its proximity to private drinking fountains and wetlands, some of which would be filled in. It is also near an elementary school.
The county also argues that the landfill would affect the value of nearby real estate and reduce the county’s revenue and ability to provide services. The small community, home to about 19,000 people, argues it doesn’t need a landfill and has opposed other private landfills.
However, the county’s legal arguments focus mostly on procedural issues, such as whether the developers met public participation requirements.
The county commissioners “were under the impression that the facility would be a bioenergy and/or wood waste incinerator rather than a permit-authorized municipal solid waste landfill,” county outside prosecutor Kimberley J. Hale wrote in the county’s filing .
“This seemingly purposeful subterfuge” lasted at least until the December 22, 2016 public hearing, when the project was still being described by a county official as an incinerator, Hale said. “Neither BCDP’s attorneys nor engineers have attempted to refute this characterization,” she added.
Rick Dunn, the director of the state’s EPD, has asked Judge Kimberly Schroer to dismiss the appeal.
The state argued in a filing that local officials should have known what type of facility was planned — or should have waited before issuing the letters — and that it was not the director’s role to independently verify that a project met the requirements complies with local building and planning regulations.
“Notwithstanding any error, misunderstanding or regret on the part of the petitioner, the 2015 (County Letters) satisfied the legal requirements for the director to grant approval,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and other attorneys in his office argued on Dunn’s behalf in a filing.
In its permit application, the developer described its operation as “processing, composting, shredding, recycling, thermal treatment and disposal of municipal solid waste, construction and demolition waste and inert waste”.
L. Robert Lovett, a representative of Macon Brantley County Development Partners declined comment pending a permit challenge and federal lawsuit.
The developer, who bought about 2,400 acres off US Highway 82, has argued in federal court that the county’s efforts to stop the landfill are unconstitutional and violate their property rights. The group, which applied for the first county-issued letters prior to acquiring the site, said they spent more than $3 million through 2020 to purchase and prepare the site.
The group accused county officials of “being biased and impartial and bowing to the shouting of a vocal minority.” On its website, the company says it won’t accept toxic coal ash and plans to turn household waste into energy products.
US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood of the Southern District of Georgia sided with the developers in a ruling last year that granted their request to prevent the district from enforcing newly enacted landfill termination measures.
“At this time, the court is satisfied that plaintiff is essentially likely to prevail on her vested interest claim,” Wood wrote at the time.
“Developers are encouraged to be as vague and confusing as possible”
The Satilla Riverkeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the Riverkeeper, argued that leaving the permit in place could pose problems for other communities.
“Upholding this permit also sends the message that developers can thwart valuable public disclosure and engagement requirements and keep communities in the dark about proposed landfills as long as they can persuade a local government to issue a letter,” said Bertrand and April Lipscomb with the SELC argued with the judge in a file.
“If consistency letters, once issued, can never be considered inaccurate by the EPD – even if local governments try to correct mistakes – then developers are encouraged to be as vague and confusing as possible in order to force local governments to give them that.” , what you need.”
Bertrand said current Brantley County zoning rules will better protect human health and the environment and prevent any future poorly placed landfill, and he said similar work is underway in other southeast Georgia counties that may be at risk.
“We are urging people to be more protective in other counties, but it’s a slow process here in South Georgia and it makes sense because we have a slow-moving river and this is a slow-moving part (of the state). and that’s part of the good thing about it,” Bertrand said. “Slow isn’t always bad, but in this case it could be harmful.”
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