Applause from the standing room-only crowd filled the courtroom in Pembroke on Thursday evening as the Bryan County Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously not to recommend changes to the county’s waste management district ordinance submitted by Pooler-based Atlantic Waste Services.
Atlantic Waste Services, which has proposed a 268-acre landfill in the Black Creek community, requested the changes due to language in the county’s current ordinance that prohibits a landfill from being built.
The request for text amendments now heads to the Bryan County Board of Commissioners for final approval or denial. A public hearing and first reading will be held during the board’s Nov. 15 meeting at the Dixie Harn Community Center in Pembroke. The second reading and vote will likely be Dec. 13.
Though commission members had few questions for the applicant or opponents Thursday, Chairman Peter Shonka said they wanted to look at the situation fairly.
“I don’t want it in my back yard and I don’t think the applicants want it in their back yard,” Shonka said. “But the fact of the matter is we all produce waste and it’s got to go somewhere.”
But Shonka also said he was concerned with the amount of traffic the facility would bring to Olive Branch Road, and the heavy load of the vehicles that would be using the road.
Despite looking at all angles of the matter, the commission members said they were unsure if the ordinance was flawed enough to rewrite it to include these changes.
The changes include minimizing the distance between a landfill and well from 1,000 to 500 feet; allowing a landfill to be accessed from a county road instead of only a state or federal highway; and allowing a waste management district in a wetlands area.
Harold Yellin, Atlantic Waste’s attorney, told the planning commission the changes would bring the county’s rules and regulations into compliance with those of the state. The state only requires a 500 feet between a landfill and well and does not require a facility to be built on a state or federal highway, he said.
Yellin said he looked at 32 other ordinances in Southeast Georgia and had not found one that had restrictions like those found in Bryan County’s. The team at Atlantic Waste Services had also looked at other areas within the county for a landfill site, Yellin said, but were unable to find a suitable location due to provisions in the ordinance.
Yellin also said he looked at other waste management sites and Waste Management and Republic Services have sites built off of county roads, not state or federal highways.
“Without some form of text amendment, you really have an ordinance that says a landfill is a ‘permitted use,’ but in reality, there is nowhere in Bryan County that would qualify,” Yellin said.
Don Stack, an Atlanta-based environmental law attorney representing a citizens group opposed to the project, said Olive Branch Road, the road the landfill would be built off of, was not made to handle the traffic the landfill would bring.
“There are very clear studies that show garbage haulers – five haulers – serving a street in one week is the same impact of 8,000 regular vehicles,” Stack said.
Yellin said Atlantic Waste would upgrade the road to support the increased traffic, but Stack said after the road was upgraded, it was unclear who would be responsible for the road’s maintenance.
Stack also cited the wetlands on the property as a reason to deny the amendments, noting the Black Creek area has some of the most pristine wetlands in the state.
But Atlantic Waste Services Vice President Ben Wall disagreed.
“We understand that area is very nice, but that is an area that is not going to be impacted by this facility at all,” Wall said after the meeting. “The areas that will be impacted are low quality and degraded. The parts (of Black Creek) that are of extreme quality will be put in a permanent conservation easement, and that’s been stated before.”
Addressing the issue of stormwater, wetland permits, site permitting and others, Yellin said all permits and operations of the landfill would be monitored by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division.
But Stack said the county should not rely on the state.
“I’ll remind you that this is the same agency that led to the (Ogeechee River) fish kill and all of the problems that we’re having throughout this area,” he said. “So I don’t have a whole heck of a lot of faith in saying you could delegate your assurances to that agency.” County Engineer Kirk Croasmun told the commission that the planning and zoning department did not recommend the changes due to unanswered site-specific questions.
Wall said after the meeting he and his team were unaware the county had questions but would have gladly addressed any concerns.
“I feel like I should have been afforded the opportunity to answer the questions the staff had that we didn’t know they had,” Wall said. “It was news to us that they had questions. I figured as big and as large as this project is, if they had a question they should have called me.”
Wall said he hoped to clear up any unanswered questions with the planning and zoning department before the Nov. 15 county commissioners’ meeting.