Painful Choices

Ask a group of local officials which unpopular issue they would prefer to broach with their constituents: raising taxes, voting themselves a pay raise or siting a new landfill. In at least one Georgia county, commissioners probably would vote for tax and pay hikes combined - and undergo multiple root canals - before they would try to site a landfill in their jurisdiction.

But local officials in Georgia will not have the luxury of naming their poison once Subtitle D takes effect. Many will be caught flat-footed, with a pile of orphaned waste bearing down on them.

Just ask Diane Dawson, a Cow-eta County, Ga., commissioner: "There are real problems in Georgia with Subtitle D," she says. "No one has given enough thought to the future with their solid waste planning." She points to problems with landfill siting and leachate management.

Dawson was embroiled in an ugly battle when her county's 40-year-old landfill neared capacity and began leaking. Commissioners decided to send Coweta's waste to a private facility, but citizens in the rural area insisted on access to a county dump. The next alternative - siting a new landfill adjacent to the old dump in a geologically questionable area - was equally unpopular. After more than a year of heated controversy, the county ended up building a transfer station to send waste to a Subtitle D facility outside the county.

According to Dawson, local landfills are no longer feasible alternatives in the Subtitle D era, but she acknowledges that the other options present their own set of problems: "The only way for local government to afford to dispose of waste is to build a regional landfill or waste-to-energy facility that takes waste from other areas so that it can afford to operate. But no one wants to play host." Not to mention the fact that political bodies are in all different stages of developing their solid waste management plans. "It's just not easy to get a group of politicians to agree to do what's right," Dawson says.

This month, World Wastes ex-plores the issues that Coweta - and municipal officials everywhere - must confront in siting facilities. On page 48 is The Ten Command-ments of Community Relations, which describes strategies that solid waste project developers can employ in siting facilities. The article, How Will Flow Control Affect Facility Funding? (page 36) examines the effects of flow control on municipal bonds for waste-to-energy facilities. As Dawson told me, it is hard to fund a facility without an adequate supply of garbage.

World Wastes will continue to address these tough siting issues, which are more crucial now than perhaps at any other time. Georgia state Environmental Protection Division Director Harold Reheis has said, "I think we're facing the toughest time in modern history to be an elected official because of the landfill crisis." And that's not hyperbole.