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Taking Up Arms

THERE'S A BATTLE BREWING in Georgia that would make even General Sherman quake. The Atlanta-based Live Oak Landfill, which receives the city's 3,205 tons of trash per day and approximately 250,000 tons of trash per year, is expected to shut down as early as Dec. 2004. This has the state's rural communities worried that four million metropolitan residents' refuse could end up in their backyard.

State environmental inspectors found that Live Oak had violated waste handling guidelines and nearby residences had lodged several complaints concerning the site's odor. The battle became political when in May 2002, then-Gov. Roy Barnes ordered Live Oak to close one month after a protest at the state capital, which prompted a hearing earlier this year. At the hearing, state environmental officials told a judge that the facility's owner, Houston-based Waste Management Inc. (WMI), had incurred serious infractions during inspections. The Environmental Protection Division (EPD) inspectors found garbage left uncovered for days. However, prior to 2003, Live Oak always had scored high marks during inspections, news sources report.

Additionally, the company recently has made several improvements to the landfill, including installing a $1.5 million odor control system, adding more than 60 new landfill gas collection wells, and adding a third flare to burn gas, according to Atlanta-based newspaper Creative Loafing.

Recently, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin expressed her concern about Live Oak closing before the city could explore landfill alternatives. Despite criticism, Franklin is searching for other land disposal options.

Further south, it is these “options” that have some communities pacing at night. The Taylor County Landfill, which is owned by Allied Waste Industries (Allied), Scottsdale, Ariz., is Georgia's largest landfill and already receives waste from three northeast states. The facility could become the next home for Atlanta's 5,000 tons of commercial and residential refuse per day if Allied has its way. Allied is seeking permission to build a $100 million transfer station near Atlanta, which would then ship waste by rail to Taylor County. So far, Allied's zoning requests have been denied, but its chances may improve as Live Oak nears a closing date.

Additionally, Complex Environmental, Atlanta is hoping to build a new 1,000-acre landfill in Taliaferro County, Ga.

Siting waste processing or disposal facilities is always a challenge because people do not want them in their communities. But the problem is further complicated when rural areas eventually become home to such facilities because they lack the resources and political leverage to fight development.

Staving off a landfill can cost thousands of dollars and take several years of haggling in court. So what options do small communities have when they do not want trash disposed of in their backyards?

“State law determines whether local governments can put the kibosh on a landfill,” says Barry Shanoff, general council for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Springs, Md. “Depending on what state you're in, counties may have to sign off on proposed landfills. In some states, counties can just about derail a project if there's no conformity with local laws.”

Of course, there are those within rural areas that believe landfills are a good thing for small communities, especially from an economical standpoint. Communities can take profits from tipping fee revenue and use them to fund schools or other important social programs.

For example, although the Taliaferro landfill would not be built in Crawfordville, Ga., the city would benefit financially from the site. The town's mayor, Cy Easters, recently told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (AJC) newspaper that he strongly favors the landfill because he feels it would benefit the community.

“We don't have a damn thing to offer better than a dump. If we fight the landfill, the city won't get a dime,” Easters told the AJC.

The landfill debate occurring in Georgia is resonating with other parts of the country. But whether rural areas can prevent landfills still is up for debate.

Atlanta-Based Live Oak Landfill Facts:

  • Collects refuse from three states and 34 counties;
  • Receives approximately 4,500 tons of trash per day;
  • 86 percent of the trash comes from metro Atlanta;
  • Stands more than 100 feet high and is a mound of approximately 18 million cubic yards; and
  • Recently installed $1.5 million worth of odor control and has 105 active collection wells.

Source: creativeloafing.com