Over the holidays at different times, two members of our staff ventured north on Highway 515. Evidence of our recent reporting on what could turn out to be the biggest story of last year, greeted us around the scenic lookout.
The smell there was absolutely atrocious on both trips through the area. Our editor went back to see how bad it was Monday and it was mostly gone, though small plumes of smoke could still be spotted coming from the Whitestone Valley Construction and Demolition Landfill, which the county administratively closed just before Christmas.
The smell was intolerable on days with heavy, humid air. It was sickening –so foul an odor that it stayed with you for a couple of miles while driving 65 mph.
There are not many homes in the immediate area of the dump, but we can’t imagine how those who do live nearby tolerate the smell if it is as bad as described at the county meeting and our own noses confirmed last week. Our county’s public safety director said the noxious fumes come from methane and burning garbage and debris like mattresses and tires – items that are strictly prohibited in the landfill there.
“People don’t need to be breathing this,” said Public Safety Director Sloan Elrod at the meeting.
It should also be noted that the site is on a ridge and Talona Creek, one of the few streams in the county, is at the bottom. There is no evidence of any problem now with the nearby waters, but the proximity warrants further checks.
At the December called meeting, commissioners heard reports from the public safety director, development office director, fire marshal and county marshal all presented by the county’s director of administration Bill Wood. The county then took the strongest action possible, shutting the private business down with an administrative order, saying it would not be lifted until the situation at the dump is remedied. Commission Chair Kris Stancil said this was something his oath of office absolutely required. And he should feel good about mandating accountability from these metro-Atlanta companies seeking to operate here.
The companies involved in the landfill were not requested to attend the county meeting, though the commission chair said he assumed they knew it was happening.
It’s a shame, the dump bosses weren’t there. It would be nice to hear how they would explain the seemingly blatant violations of county codes at their site. There could be another side, but it is hard to get past the photos of burning mattresses and the horrible smell. The evidence presented by the county was clear that the Whitestone landfill accepted garbage from outside the county borders and they accepted items they shouldn’t have – household garbage, tires, mattresses.
Stancil and Wood both say it’s evident they were accepting garbage from outside of the county (supposedly 95 percent of their total volume comes from elsewhere) and the photos made plain the piles of garbage contains items they were not permitted for.
Two different county officials speculated to us that perhaps the owners didn’t know those codes because in meetings and on their own website the operators acknowledge waste coming from the metro area, calling themselves a regional facility when the county code limits the operation to Pickens County.
The company has met a couple of times with county officials seeking a path to re-open, according to our commission chair. That is a good sign that the landfill operators still want to use the site and apparently are willing to remedy the problems.
We would urge the commissioners to be fair, but to show no leniency with the county codes. As Commission Chair Stancil said his sworn duty is to the residents of this county and that starts with holding all companies accountable to the codes that govern their operations.
The television show The Simpsons has several episodes referencing the Springfield Tire Fire, including one on its 50th anniversary of ignition. We don’t need that plot coming to life in Pickens County.
We are encouraged by the actions of our county government and the fact the operators are still talking to the local officials about this matter. We encourage them both to do the right thing and clean up this mess.