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Presenting the facts

Both sides speak at landfill hearing

By Cassandra Mickens

The Selma Times-Journal

HAYNEVILLE – Passionate pro-and-anti-landfill supporters overflowed the Lowndes County Commission chambers Monday night as each group presented its version of “the facts” during a four-hour public hearing.

Hundreds of concerned citizens were kept out of the hearing due to the building’s fire hazard capacity. Only 90 people are allowed in the commission chambers at one time, said Lowndes County Sheriff Willie Vaughner. Vaughner and his deputies barricaded the entrance while peeved residents questioned why county commissioners did not move the hearing to the more spacious courthouse across the street.

As outsiders listened to jumbled voices over two large speakers, commission chairman Charlie King called the hearing to order. King announced each person would be allowed two minutes to speak. If anyone failed to comply with the two-minute limit or is ruled out of order, he or she would be removed from the room by the sheriff or a deputy.

“We will make sure everybody is heard,” King said.

First to take the floor were representatives of Alabama River Partners, LLC (ARP), an Alabama-Georgia-based company that seeks to bring a $25 million three-phase new industry project bordering the Alabama River and Pintlala Creek.

The project consists of a sand and gravel mining operation, an inland port and a controversial construction and demolition (C&D) landfill.

According to ARP, the project will provide up to 75 jobs for the Lowndes County citizens and generate a new solid tax base, said spokeswoman Kim Davis.

Located in the county’s industrial district, the entire project would operate on a 900-acre site.

A well-orchestrated PowerPoint slideshow was presented by ARP, which clearly stated the C&D landfill would only accept non-contaminated or benign materials such as “yard debris, uncontaminated concrete and untreated lumber” and cannot accept hazardous, toxic or contaminated garbage, medical waste, petroleum contaminated waste, asbestos, lead or mercury.

Davis said the landfill would be strictly monitored, regulated and inspected by proper government agencies.

Davis wanted residents “to catch our vision,” alluding to an existing C&D landfill in Fulton County, Georgia and its economic prosperity – surrounded by million dollar homes and top of the line schools.

Davis said the project would inevitably open up opportunities for retail, automotive and agricultural commodities within Lowndes County and connect the Black Belt region to a global market.

As the presentation concluded with the slogan “Say yes to progress,” the outside crowd booed.

Lowndes County residents stressed several concerns about the landfill.

First, they want to know how C&D waste materials is separated from hazardous materials. They also questioned the long-term maintenance of the landfill and fear the waste materials will eventually seep into their water supply, despite close monitoring.

Finally, citizens are bothered C&D debris will be transported to Lowndes County from six states – Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

Tina Moon, chairwoman of the anti-landfill group Citizens for a Clean Black Belt (CCBB) told ARP reps she and several other Lowndes Countians have one request.

“I want a guarantee that (contamination) won’t happen,” she said.

ARP invited two New Orleans debris inspectors to speak about how C&D waste is separated from hazardous materials.

“We make sure there is no ineligible debris going on these trucks,” said inspector Wanda Cook. “There’s no hazardous waste or chemicals of any sort going into this landfill.”

When Commissioner Paul Sloane questioned why Louisiana can’t take care of their own C&D waste, the inspector responded, “It’s closed. The residents didn’t want it.”

Several residents attempted to voice their concerns in the two minutes allotted to them. Residents who oppose the landfill said ARP reps don’t respect them. “They think you’re stupid, they think you’re simple, they think you’re low class,” one speaker said.

Other opposing residents believe there is better way to bring economic development to the county and the commission shouldn’t think of the three-phase project as the last resort. One speaker likened Lowndes County to the lonely girl at the school dance that says yes to the first guy who asks them to cut a rug.

“Lowndes County doesn’t need to be so desperate even though the desperation is understandable,” he said.

Those supporting the landfill are in favor of better schools, resourceful libraries and roads sans potholes. Some speakers said every time a new, innovative idea is brought to the county’s attention, a small group of individuals always shoot it down. One man who supports the landfill said the county commission only wants to “keep the poor poor.”

After nearly three hours of back and forth, commissioners candidly shared their thoughts with the audience.

King said the commission has been disrespected on many occasions since the three-phase project was brought to their attention. He’s tired of people asking for respect while being disrespectful.

“The damage has been done,” he said. “It’s like urinating in my face and calling it rain.”

King said his position is not to keep the county poor.

“That ain’t gonna happen with me.”

Sloane squashed rumors that county commissioners have accepted money from ARP to back the project. “I would not take one dime, one penny, a cup of coffee from these people to sell us down the river,” he said.

Commissioner Robert Harris reminded residents a decision has not been made yet and asked them to have faith in their elected officials. Harris said objectivity will be applied to the commission’s deliberations. “The decision will not be favorable for everyone, but it will be the best decision,” he said.