A standing-room-only group of about 50 people crowded into County Line Town Hall last Thursday night for a hearing and question-and-answer session on a landfill proposed for construction on a 219-acre site annexed by the town for that purpose.
The meeting was hosted by the mayor and town council and featured Imre Szekelyhidi of Landfill Development Consultants LLC of Austin, Texas, as guest speaker and primary presenter. Szekelyhidi identified himself as a consultant representing Thornhill Marion Properties LLC, which has purchased the property and will manage the landfill there if it is approved. He also identified himself as the developer of the town’s Solid Waste Management Plan, the announced subject of the Thursday hearing.
Szekelyhidi spoke at length about the design of the landfill and the protections the design should provide against various environmental hazards. He said extensive scientific and engineering studies will be done to determine whether the site has serious flaws that would prevent it from being used as a landfill. He said studies are still underway but that so far, conditions appear favorable.
Szekelyhidi said that for the landfill to be approved, the town’s solid waste management plan must be submitted to and approved by ADEM. (As of early this week, the plan had been submitted, but not approved by ADEM.) Szekelyhidi said the permit application for the landfill will be submitted to ADEM in late May or early June.
About a dozen citizens spoke or asked questions during the hearing, most of them distinctly opposing the site. Mayor James Larry Calvert went to considerable lengths to see that all who wanted to speak or pose a question got an opportunithy to do so.
Questions raised included whether the landfill would accept hazardous or toxic wastes, whether it would accept medical wastes, whether it would pollute the local water table and surface streams, whether it would cause noxious odors, to what extent the operators could be held responsible for damages including road and environmental deterioration, and what if any protection the operators would provide against decline of property values. Simple questions, no simple answers
In fairness to Szekelyhidi, his answers were comprehensive, but often couched in such technical jargon and circumlocutions, that few simple answers to simple questions were given.
Example: Will the landfill accept medical waste? Answer: yes, but only after it has been treated to eliminate possible toxicity. There followed a considerable digression on four forms of treatment of medical waste, one of which is autoclaving. The solid waste plan makes provision for autoclaving, according to one resident who had studied the plan. Yes, there is provision for it, but it is not currently intended for implementation, said Szekelyhidi.
A considerable number of questions were directed to city leaders including Mayor Calvert and council members Herman Mulvehill, Pam Sitton, Dennis Finch, and Norma Holzhauer, who sat at the head table, though only the mayor answered questions. In answer to one, it was said the town would receive royalties of 50 cents per ton on landfill waste plus annual taxes on the company’s operation.
For what would the money be used? To provide town services – fire, police, road maintenance – the mayor replied.
“Since it was incorporated in 1957, County Line has been just a spot in the road,” Calvert said. “We’re trying to change that. We’re trying to help citizens, but you can’t do it when there’s no money to do it with. It’s hard when people are asking you for things every day, and you just don’t have the funds to provide anything to them.”
Blount County Solid Waste Authority chairman Bob Shows addressed the group, pointing out their ability to register their concerns about the project had been compromised by an inadequate notification process, suggesting, but not stating the conclusion, that the flaws in the process were intentional.
Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, contradicted Szekelyhidi’s contention that ADEM was an effective agency with high standards that would protect citizen interests adequately. He warned citizens to get organized and express their opposition forcibly during the ADEM public comment period, which lasts for 30 days following public notice of a permit application. Public input, written or verbal, is not accepted as part of the public record at any time other than during that period, he said.
Mitchell Millican, summarizing the sense of the meeting near the end of the session addressed the head table: “I congratulate you for the job you’ve done (speaking to Szekelyhidi); you’re a heck of a salesman. But you can see they don’t want it (turning and gesturing toward the room full of frustrated citizens). Why don’t you come up with some other way of raising money?”