By Adam Smith

The North Jefferson News




Mt. Olive resident Tony Cousins is angry.

Cousins, who owns land bordering Jefferson County Landfill No. 1 in Mt. Olive, is upset that the landfill will now be able to take in garbage from Blount, Bibb, Shelby, St. Clair, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties, in addition to Jefferson County garbage.

“There ain’t nothing we can do because our county commission did not follow through,” Cousins said. “There ain’t a person alive today that will live to see the end of it.”

Cousins blames the Jefferson County Commission for its “non-action” in allowing the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to change the permit. That change became effect on Feb. 11, according to Jerome Hand of ADEM.

He also blames former Gardendale Mayor Kenny Clemons for supporting Santek Environmental Inc.’s plan to increase the landfill service area at a county commission meeting last April. Gardendale businessman Aaron Box was also present at the meeting and voiced support for Santek’s efforts to remain competitive.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Clemons and Mr. Box for bringing us an all-county and soon to be all-state landfill in my backyard,” Cousins said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

In addition to the permit change that would allow the landfill to accept garbage from surrounding counties and municipalities, Santek has also asked for a permit modification to free up 100 additional acres of landfill space, according to Santek spokesperson Cheryl Dunson.

She said the additional acreage sought is a minimal request, comparatively speaking. The county has designated 2,000 acres for current and future landfill use.

ADEM sent out letters in late December to landowners with property near the landfill, located on Mary Buckalew Parkway in Mt. Olive. The letter gave landowners a chance to schedule a file review and also included a Web site address to review the permit.

Following the time of notification, there was a 35-day public comment period in which residents had a chance to voice opposition to the permit change.

In January, County Commission Jim Carns said there had not been “much of an uproar” about the permit change request and that expanding the service area of the landfill would help keep them competitive.

In a resolution passed in January 2007, Carns was designated as contract administrator for Santek, giving him the authority to “execute documents relating to the performance of the lease, including applications for modifications and/or amendments to landfill permits.”

Carns could not be reached for comment Tuesday regarding the Feb. 11 permit change or Santek’s request for more acreage.

On Tuesday, Jefferson County Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said she thought the county commission would have a voice in ADEM’s decision. She said she feared what environmental repercussions might also come from granting 100 additional acres for landfill use.

“The last thing we need is for Mt. Olive to become one giant landfill,” Collins said.

ADEM spokesman Scott Hughes said last month that ADEM usually leaves decisions on landfills up to local governments to decide.

“This is something the county commission there deemed they did want, to allow the landfill to expand its service area,” Hughes said. “It doesn’t matter where the material is coming from. Our purpose is to ensure it doesn’t cause a negative impact on the environment.”

Though the landfill will now be able to accept garbage from surrounding counties, the permit does not allow the landfill to exceed its cap of 1,500 tons of garbage a day, according to Dunson.

The landfill has also not started accepting garbage from the surrounding counties, but that could soon change. “We’re targeting some additional volume, but it’s just a matter of timing,” Dunson said. “It could happen within the next few months.”

Earlier this month, the Gardendale City Council passed a resolution to voice opposition to the landfill accepting outside garbage. However, the unanimously approved resolution came five days after ADEM had already approved the permit change.

“We were getting calls from numerous people from Mt. Olive and Gardendale wanting us to oppose that,” said Gardendale Mayor Othell Phillips. “The Mt. Olive landfill is not in our city, but those trucks would be coming through and tearing up our roads and dropping garbage to get there. We just wanted to take a public stand.”

The commission, in the midst of resolving a $325 billion sewer debt, has enjoyed a profitable relationship with Santek. Since taking over the landfill in 2006, more than $5 million has been returned to the county. As per Santek’s lease agreement, the county is paid $6 per ton at a rate of 12,750 tons per month being dumped at the landfill. Anything over 12,750 tons, Santek pays the county an additional $2 per ton.

Dunson said landfill has seen only one rate increase for the public, from $3 a load to $5, in part to account for a tax which requires Santek to pay $1 to the state for every load of garbage.

Additionally, Santek has set aside funds for the closure and post-closure of the landfill that the county does not have access to. Dunson said based on the current permit modification and current volume, the landfill’s life will be in excess of 30 years.

Cousins said residents should make their voices heard to the commission by writing to the commission.

“Everybody in Gardendale, Morris and Kimberly needs to write a letter to the county commission with a vote of no confidence,” he said. “The county commission saw what the community wanted and through inaction, we have a landfill rammed right down our throat.”

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