Russell County commissioners this morning blocked a controversial landfill proposal that met with broad opposition in recent weeks because of the site's proximity to the Chattahoochee River.
Commissioners voted 5-1 to deny the application of Earth Services, a company that proposed starting a 204-acre landfill on a sand and gravel mine less than a mile from the river.
The vote capped a vigorous debate in which dozens of residents in Phenix City and Columbus spoke out against the potential hazards of a construction and demolition landfill.
"I think the people have spoken, and the commission has spoken," Peggy Martin, the chairwoman of the commission, said after voting against the landfill. "It's just not a good location."
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Also opposing the landfill were Commissioners Gentry Lee, Tillman M. Pugh, Cattie Epps and Mervin Dudley.
Commissioner Ronnie Reed voted against Lee's motion to deny, saying the landfill issue had devolved into "a circus" that could discourage businesses from coming to Russell County. Commissioner Larry Screws, who was still undecided moments before the vote, abstained.
A crowd of more than 75 people, many of whom opposed the landfill, packed the commission chambers this morning more than half an hour before the meeting. Ten people spoke against the landfill during a brief public comment period before the vote.
The divided vote reflected a hope among some commissioners that the county could reap a quick financial benefit by approving the landfill and collecting a tipping fee.
But in the days leading up to the vote, opponents distributed fliers and posted yard signs opposing the landfill. They claimed the landfill would have polluted the water at a time when the region is discovering the touristic value of the river.
"The concerned people of this district who are not willing to trade 10 jobs and a few dollars for the sake of our future existence have spoken. And we say 'No,'" said Janet Jackson, vice president of the Citizens for Unification, Revitalization and Economic Development.
Developers defended their proposal, maintaining the Alabama Department of Environmental Management would conduct thorough studies of the landfill's environmental impact before issuing a permit.
It wasn't clear whether the developers planned to propose the landfill again. Hugh Sorrell, vice president of The Concrete Company in Columbus, which owns Earth Services, declined to comment on the vote.
"I do hope that they would look maybe to the west or further south," Martin said. "Not on the river."
"We've heard about property owner rights, right to develop," said Roger Martin, executive director of the nonprofit Chattahoochee RiverWarden. "They don't have the right to develop when public health is at issue.