Taking a stand

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Landfill supporters, naysayers gather in Hayneville

By Cassandra Mickens

The Selma Times-Journal

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HAYNEVILLE – As patriotic instrumentals bellowed from audio speakers, a “good group” of Lowndes County residents – young and old – assembled at Hayneville Square Monday evening to proclaim the now famed slogan, “No, we still don’t want a dump!”

The “dump” being a construction and demolition (C&D) landfill along the Alabama River in Lowndes County’s industrial district, not yet developed. The Lowndes County Commission will ultimately decide the landfill’s fate when they meet July 24.

Lowndesboro Mayor Rick Pate welcomed those in attendance as inclement weather threatened to shorten the community gathering.

“Lowndes County’s future is at stake,” Pate said. “For three or four weeks, we’ve been trying to get our vision out to the county commission about what Lowndes County can be. I think we’re right on the edge of going to big things.”

But the path to big things, Pate says, doesn’t include a C&D landfill. He believes the Alabama-Georgia-based company that plans to develop the landfill – Alabama River Partners, LLC (ARP) – is taking advantage of Lowndes Countians by not presenting true facts.

“Everyone’s entitled to your own opinion and not your own facts. That’s what I believe,” Pate said.

“They don’t care two cents about Lowndes County.”

If approved by the county commission, residents fear the landfill will become an environmental and public health hazard, resulting in irreversible damages such as an impure water supply.

Tina Moon, chairwoman of Citizens for a Clean Black Belt (CCBB), asked the audience why “ARP chose Lowndes County as the recipient of this dump?” The answer is simple she says.

“It’s not because they want to bring industry to the county. It’s because Lowndes County, like many other counties in Alabama with landfills, are predominately Black Belt counties,” Moon said. These sparsely populated counties do not have the financial means of stopping dumps from destroying their county.”

According to ARP, 5,000 tons or 10 million pounds of non-toxic and non-hazardous materials including masonry materials, sheet rock and uncontaminated concrete, soil, brick and asphalt paving would be subject to daily landfill disposal. Six states will be disposing its construction and demolition debris in Lowndes County – Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

One of residents’ top concerns is C&D waste coming into Lowndes County from destroyed buildings and residences in New Orleans. While ARP vows hazardous and non-hazardous debris will be separated, CCBB remain doubtful and are conducting research to back up their suspicions.

ARP spokeswoman Kim Davis said the company would follow C&D landfill laws and regulations to the letter if the site is given the go ahead. According to Davis, residents have nothing to fear and everything to gain from the proposal.

“(CCBB) wants you to believe you ease in polluted stuff. That can’t happen by law,” Davis said. “We will abide by the laws of the state.”

To prove a C&D landfill is not hazardous to Lowndes County, Davis invites curious residents to travel to Fulton County, Georgia with her on Thursday “to see for themselves.” In Fulton County, a C&D landfill co-exists with a $600,000 to $3 million dollar-home residential community, complete with a private school and two private golf courses, Davis said.

Prior to the anti-landfill gathering, Citizens for a Progressive Lowndes County (CPLC) held a pro-landfill rally Monday afternoon, drawing a sizeable crowd as well. Carl Bell, a business owner and former Hayneville Mayor, is 100 percent behind the landfill and said people are misinformed about what the site actually represents.

“It’s a great opportunity for Lowndes County,” Bell said.

“We need the tax dollars.”

Bell said he “truly believes” ARP will follow the law and uphold their responsibilities.

Moon said following the law is not enough to ensure residents live in a safe, environmentally friendly environment.

“Realistically, murders can’t happen by law. Drug use can’t happen by law. But these things happen everyday,” she said.

As part of a three-phase $25 million project, the landfill will accompany a sand and gravel mining operation as well as an inland port.

Davis said the project will bring up to 75 jobs and an estimated $750,000 annually to Lowndes County. Moon said the safety of Lowndes County trumps a potential economic boom.

“Even if we could believe all of those will happen, the adverse environmental impact on this county and the detriment to the county’s total image will be much greater than any benefit the county may receive,” she said.

“When the damage is done and the developers have made their money and left, our county and future generations will spend billions of dollars to forever comply with environmental laws.”

Doyle Fuller, a chief legal counsel who assisted Lowndes County in fighting the development of a landfill on U.S. Highway 80 in 2000, encouraged residents to fight for what they believe.

“Don’t give up. Don’t quit,” he said. “It won’t be over next week.”

Alabama Watch Executive Director Barbara Evans, who also opposed the landfill on Highway 80, had remained neutral concerning the C&D landfill.

“It is not the time to bring in a new waste industry,” Evans said, citing the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s (ADEM) “low opinion of community people” and the history of Alabama’s landfill industries.

Evans also expressed her lack of confidence in the county commission on vetoing the proposal before exiting the stage.

“I feel most of them would sell their first child if the price is right,” she said.