More than 125 people packed the Russell County Commission chambers Monday for a spirited but well-mannered public hearing on a proposed landfill in south Phenix City.
The proposal by Earth Services LLC to build a 204-acre construction and demolition landfill on property that was once a sand and gravel mine, is slated to come to a vote at the county commission’s meeting Wednesday. If it is approved, it will still need state approval. If it’s denied, as it was two years ago, the issue will be settled, at least for the present.
In Monday’s hearing, each faction was given 20 minutes to present its side.
Proponents went first and painted a picture of a harmless business enterprise that would provide jobs, reclaim land and be a gift to future generations.
Opponents painted just the opposite — citing disastrous examples in other parts of the country, listing dangerous gasses and chemicals that can leach out of such a landfill and predicting that it would inhibit the county’s growth to the south.
Hugh Sorrell, vice president of Earth Services LLC, said opposition to the project is in part the product of an existing landfill that doesn’t want the competition. He accused the opposition, which he did not name, of “using populism, propaganda and misinformation.”
“We feel that any landowner in Russell County has the right to use their land for any legal purpose that does not present any threat to the citizens. We know that ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) will have the proper safeguards in place to ensure this.”
Sorrell said opponents have said the project would hurt Columbus’ whitewater rafting project, but pointed out that the landfill site is several miles downstream from that stretch of river. He also rebutted accusations the landfill will be in a residential area.
“This site always has been industrial land always will be,” he said.
Daniel Wells, an engineer speaking for Earth Services, pointed out that site assessments and the landfill’s design all have to meet federal government standards. He also discounted concerns about the proximity of the river, saying the plan calls for strict stormwater runoff management and containment.
Wells also assured commissioners that ADEM’s oversight would be strict and ongoing.
John Haygood, former legal counsel for and former interim director of the ADEM, is working as a consultant for Earth Services.
Haygood outlined ADEM’s strict procedures and called the south Phenix City property an “ideal” site. He also assured residents that C&D landfills are not dangerous.
“A construction and demolition landfill is the most benign stream of waste you can find,” he said. “You’re talking about brick-bats and two-by-fours.”
Among those speaking in opposition was John Woodward, owner of Columbus Coffee Co. and board member of the Chattahoochee Paddling Club. He pointed out that there are 318 years of landfill capacity existing already in an 11-county area surrounding Russell.“There is no indication that we need additional landfill capacity in this area,” he said.
He also pointed to an old abandoned Wilson Camp landfill in south Columbus, which is continually eroding and dumping waste into the river.
“The river likes to take the banks away and change its path,” he said.
Pat Chumbley, a landfill engineer with LPC Technologies, said the site “is a very bad place for a landfill.”
He cited the porous nature of the soil.
“When you build a landfill, you look for a site that has a lot of clay, and this site does not,” he said. “What is there is sandy soil that is unsuitable for a landfill.”
He also pointed to the high groundwater table in the area, which would increase the likelihood that the river would be affected.
Darrell Meyer is director of planning for the KPS Group in Birmingham, which has worked with the city and county on planning issues. He said the landfill is counter to what the city and county hope to see in the future, especially in that end of the county.
“Growth and development is finally coming to the south side of Phenix City,” he said. “However, you have before you now a proposal to dump construction and demolition waste in the area.”
He also scoffed at the notion that the C&D waste would be “benign.”
“Have you ever visited a construction site and seen what is thrown in those dumpsters?” he asked. “It’s not just brick-bats and two-by-fours. Its chemicals and solvents and such, too.”
When both sides had expended their time, Commissioner Gentry Lee called for an unofficial show of hands on each side. The result was about 3-1 against the landfill, Lee said.
Commissioner Cattie Epps, whose district includes the landfill site, has repeatedly refused requests for interviews on this issue. At the end of the hearing, she reiterated that position and chided people who had speculated on her position.
“Since I represent this district, I don’t want you to accuse me of something that you haven’t heard me say,” Epps said. “I haven’t said anything to anyone about how I’m going to vote.
“That being said on Wednesday, sometime during the commission meeting, we hope we will have a decision. That’s when you’re going to get my vote. Not before and not until.”