The politics of landfills will always be fierce, but that doesn’t eliminate the need for landfills. We all make trash. We just like to watch the truck take it away and forget about it. But that truck has to go somewhere. That debris is going to end up near somebody.
The first picture I ever took for this newspaper was in 1998 of officials looking at Adams Clarke Road in Madison County as one of the many sites considered for a regional landfill. Little did I know then, that I’d live right near that site. In retrospect, I’m glad it didn’t happen. I wouldn’t want a dump near me. Who would?
The regional landfill plans hit the trash can a decade ago because none of the 10 counties involved in the planning was willing to draw the short straw. If you get to ship your trash to your neighbor, then great. If your neighbor gets to truck his trash to you, well, Febreze won’t cover that stinker of a deal.
As I drove back from my parents’ house in Macon recently, I passed many “stop-the-landfill” signs as I neared the town of Madison. A municipal landfill is being proposed on Indian Creek Road in Morgan County.
Then, I learned Oct. 19 that a public hearing was scheduled for that afternoon in Elbert County for a separate matter, a “biomass facility,” where solid waste would be burnt by an incinerator, with steam running through a turbine generator to create electricity.
The proposed Elbert County 250-acre site is located off an unpaved road at the “Broad River Stone” sign three miles from the Madison County line and the Broad River bridge. I headed to Elberton to attend the hearing. And the Elbert County commissioners’ room was packed for the 30-minute meeting. The session was a “needs assessment” meeting, where the BOC received comments from the public on what is needed in Elbert County. People wanted answers. But I’d say everyone probably left with more questions than answers. Will Elbert County approve a massive incinerator to burn trash? Would such a facility be an efficient way to dispose of area trash or would it create harmful pollutants that outweigh any positive impact it might have? What about all the trash traffic on Hwy. 72?
I’m not enthused about the idea of burning massive amounts of trash. I can’t help but think in simplistic terms, recognizing that I’d rather stand next to a trash pile for a long time than be exposed to particles from a burning pile for a short time. I can’t help but recall the nauseating smell of burning plastic.
I would be horribly upset about any such facility locating near me, no matter how many assurances I received from officials about its safety. Government environmental agencies often rely on major industries to police themselves. But I don’t have much trust in that. Plus, polluters have a natural protection against any claim of sickness. If you think industrial runoff or air toxins made you sick, well, try proving it in court. The burden of proof is on you. And that can be difficult, given all the possible genetic, lifestyle and other environmental factors that could be introduced as cause for sickness. Apart from the effect on people, I also wonder how a massive “biomass facility” might impact the nearby Broad River. That’s a pretty huge matter, too.
All that said, I don’t feel the Elbert County commissioners are villainous in considering a new trash proposal. The fact is, trash has to go somewhere. But where? If northeast Georgia can’t agree on a regional landfill site, then each county must address its needs on its own. I couldn’t get on board for an incinerator, particularly one near a pristine river, but I can hardly blame Elbert County commissioners for thinking long-term on an inevitable need. It’s much easier for leaders to pass the volatile trash disposal issues on to the next set of leaders. Talking trash is never a political winner.
Both Morgan County and Elbert County are among the 10 northeast Georgia counties that worked a decade ago to establish a regional landfill. And now, without a regional landfill in place, both are looking to address solid waste needs on their own.
So what will Madison County do in the long haul with its trash? Right now, Madison County transports its trash to a landfill near Homer.
But county solid waste director Sandra Webb, who serves as a county regional solid waste representative, has repeatedly said that counties in this area need to put their heads together and address long-term trash needs.
Of course, no one wants to think of trash. It’s the ultimate out-of-sight, out-of-mind issue. Watch the truck pick it up and it magically disappears.
If only it was that simple.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.