By Justin Boron
Residents opposing a planned landfill in the northwest part of Clayton County on Monday night expressed their frustration one last time before state environmental officials decide whether the more than two year old project can proceed.
At a public hearing attended by an estimated 90 people, citizens criticized the landfill site's proximity to schools and ground water from nearby creeks, while citing fears that it would diminish their property values and their overall quality of life. They also claimed that the landfill's location amounts to "environmental racism" because it would be placed in a predominantly minority neighborhood.
The hearing capped off a series of meetings and forums required for the landfill owner Stephens MDS to gain an operating permit from the state Environmental Protection Division.
While no representative of the company directly addressed the citizens' concerns at the meeting, a spokesman for the company in an interview promised that it would avoid being obtrusive influence on the community.
"In all of this, the bottom line is in the event that the landfill is permitted, Stephens MDS intends to be a good neighbor," Ernie Jones said.
Bill Hodges, a consulting engineer for the project, also said there is no possibility of ground water contamination.
"There is no realistic risk of any environmental issues with the site," he said.
He also said Stephens MDS will have to put up $2 to $4 million in insurance money for the state to ensure that it appropriately manages the site.
The site on Flat Shoals and W. Lee's Mill Road received its zoning in 2003. The Lawrenceville-based Stephens MDS is seeking a permit for a construction and demolition landfill, which would be the first one it has owned and operated. It would contain asphalt, concrete, and other construction materials. The company currently operates an inert landfill at the same site.
Although citizen input may not sway the permitting process much, the residents may have ground for a legal challenge, said Lee Breedlove, counsel for the citizen group called Tri-County Community Association.
"They're being required to shoulder the brunt," he said. "There is a constitutional issue with their property rights being violated."
Dexter Matthews, the president of the Clayton County Branch the NAACP, referred to the landfill's location as "environmental racism" and called for the community to join in a lawsuit.
Tonya Lee Willis, a College Park citizen who spoke at the meeting, asked, "Why is it that we need yet another landfill in a predominantly minority community?"
Breedlove also argued that Stephens MDS must come before the Board of Commissioners again to update its zoning for the property. He said a provision in county code stipulates that the zoning would expire if the landfill isn't created one year from when it was originally zoned.
But Hodges said the law only required that the property owner be actively pursuing a permit one year after the zoning.
The landfill is part of a broader trend toward industrialization in northwest part of the county, where several neighborhoods have struggled with the impact of blasting for fifth runway construction at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The residents living there also may be affected by airplane noise once air traffic begins on the new runway, which officials expect to be operational by May of next year.
Commissioner Virginia Gray, who represents the northwest part of the county, said she supports her constituents' battle.
"I want each of you to know I have fought the landfill from day one," she said. "I have still not stopped the fight."