Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 26, 2006

officials host heated debate over landfill

By Regina Grayson

With the Lowndes County Commission chambers full to capacity and numerous people standing outside listening to the proceedings on a loudspeaker, Monday night's public hearing on the three-phase, $25 million proposed landfill project turned into, at times, a heated and emotional meeting.

The hearing began at 6 p.m., with several people under the impression that the hearing was to be held in the courthouse because of the large number of people expected to attend. However, Lowndes County Commission Chairman Charlie King, Jr., told the group inside the commission chambers that even though they had wanted to hold the hearing in the courthouse, it had been publicly advertised as being held in the commission chambers, and that, by law, they had to abide by those rules.

Alabama River Partners, LLC, began the meeting with a 30-minute Powerpoint presentation given by ARP company spokesperson Kim Davis. She was followed by ARP representatives.

Commissioner Paul Sloane asked Gaylon Thackston, a professional engineer and vice-president of Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, Inc., how the groundwater would be monitored since many Lowndes County residents had wells that might be only 26 feet deep.

&#8220ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) does not have groundwater monitoring because no contaminants come out of C & D landfills,” Thackston said.

Lowndes County Sheriff Willie Vaughner and Chief Deputy John Williams allowed citizens to come into the commission chambers and speak before the commission, as room would allow. Residents were given a two-minute minimum to speak, and many were upset about that since ARP representatives had been allowed to speak from 6:05 until 6:40 p.m.

Lowndes' resident Thomas O'Dell was very upset about the proposed landfill.

&#8220They think we're simple and low-class,” O'Dell said. &#8220That's why they think they can get away with this. We've been through this before. Just how did they pick this one county out of 1,200 counties in six states to bring this landfill to?”

Many questioned the proposed 75 jobs that ARP said would come with the landfill project. Commissioner Sloane said that most of the jobs would require heavy equipment operators.

Pastor Larry Townsend said that he had seen &#8220a lot of division like I haven't seen in 40 years.”

&#8220It's time to work together and come together, so please consider this vision for Lowndes County. I am for the landfill,” Townsend said. &#8220This could bring a lot of opportunities for economic development for us.”

Mosses' Mayor William Scott said that the majority of mayors in the county were in support of the economic proposal. He suggested that a 12-month regulatory board could be set up to monitor the project.

&#8220Let us trust the county commission to work out what is best for Lowndes County,” Scott said.

&#8220Who lives in Lowndes County who is proposing this landfill?” resident Gayle Morrow asked the commission. &#8220Not any of these people. I live here. We have over 2,000 signatures against it and more coming in. Outside, the lines are three and four-people deep all the way to the courthouse. I came here to speak for those outside who can't get in. I ask the commission to please hear us. We don't want this.”

Many of those who spoke against the landfill were worried about contaminated debris coming from New Orleans. According to Thackston, contaminated debris from New Orleans would have to be sent to landfills specifically appropriated just for that type of material.

&#8220The containers that come here will be closed,” Thackston said. &#8220The materials coming here will be the same as what is in your house. I don't understand what the difference is.”

Lowndes County resident Bonnie Boyd said that the water resources Lowndes County has &#8220cannot be replaced.”

&#8220I own land on the river, and I love it,” Boyd said. &#8220I ask the commissioners to please don't sell me down the river. We've only got one river, and all of this really scares me.”

Tina Moon, spokesperson for Citizens for a Clean Black Belt, asked why ARP couldn't pay for an environmental assessment that would indicate what effects the landfill could have on the Alabama River and the county's groundwater.

&#8220They've said they are willing to buy the lots along the river,” she said. &#8220Why can't they pay for an assessment for us to see?”

&#8220I just want the commission to make a knowledgeable decision about this,” Moon said.