Amid controversy and cries of "environmental racism," the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), Montgomery, Ala., has granted Alabama Disposal Solutions LLC, Montgomery, a permit to build a landfill near the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights Trail, a national historic site in the civil rights movement.
In 1965, hundreds of suffragists - black and white - marched the 54-mile U.S. Highway 80 from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery demanding the rights of blacks to vote. The group's first attempt to march is known as "Bloody Sunday" because marchers were severely beaten by state troopers. The suffragists finally succeeded in marching the entire highway during four days, escorted by the U.S. National Guard.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a law declaring the march route "The Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail."
Alabama Disposal first applied to Lowndes County for a permit to build the landfill - approximately five miles outside of Montgomery's city limits, near the trail - in 1998. The county approved the plan because it would bring much needed revenue and jobs to one of the poorest counties in the state, according to Joe Frank Brown, county commissioner.
Another landfill, which was not regulated properly, had sat on the same site for many years after it was closed eight years ago, Brown says, adding that the new one will be strictly regulated and "clean the county up."
Once the city and county approve the plan, the state must review and approve it, says Russell Kelly, chief of the solid waste branch of ADEM.
However, controversy erupted when residents of the predominately black communities near the proposed landfill heard of the county's approval. One civil rights activist told National Public Radio she takes it personally that the county would build "a dump on the hallowed ground where people put their lives on the line and walked."
Other opponents have called the landfill an example of "environmental racism" because it is being built near black communities. One group of residents went to federal court to try to block the project, but the case was dismissed when the court indicated it did not have jurisdiction over the property near the trail.
Brown says the controversy is being "blown out of proportion."
"A lot of people are upset about it but [the landfill] is not close to the trail," he says. "It's not going to affect the trail."
Alabama Disposal submitted in its proposal a "buffer zone" of 500 feet from the highway, where usually the zone is 100 feet to 200 feet, Kelly says.
The state of Alabama has 30 municipal solid waste landfills, 16 public and 14 privately owned. The state processes approximately 4.5 million tons of solid waste per year, according to Kelly. Alabama Disposal's landfill will service 65 of the state's 67 counties and it is permitted for 1,500 tons per day of waste, Kelly says.