Concerns about coal ash possibly filling up the Pine Ridge Landfill on Bailey Jester Road, and the lower fee allowed for dumping the waste leftover from burning coal, were topics of discussion at a recent meeting between local elected officials and the state legislative delegation.
Reps. Susan Holmes (R-Monticello) and Andy Welch (R-McDonough) were present, along with Joel Wiggins of the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and Todd Edwards of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG). State. Sen. Burt Jones was unable to attend.
Butts County Commissioner Joe Brown said the county fought for two years to get tipping fees increased and was able to get the fees increased from $1 to $2.50 a ton. But now, said Brown, the threat of coal ash being dumped at a lower fee is looming.
“Now the local landfill we have has 300 acres, and they are about to acquire an additional 300 acres,” said Brown. “There is an issue with coal ash. The price for a ton of coal ash is a whole lot less than the $2.50. They can charge whatever they want, but they only have to pay us $1.25.
“We don’t want this additional 300 acres to be filled up with coal ash. The people that are pushing for this, we don’t want to lose. We’re not saying we don’t want it, but we need better equity because it’s filling up landfills everywhere.”
Coal ash has harmful metals, like mercury and arsenic, and other dangerous chemicals. These chemicals become even more dangerous when they enter water supplies.
Electric utilities such as Georgia Power, which has 11 coal-fired plants, are moving millions of tons of coal ash to lined landfills like Pine Ridge to get them out of old, leaky unlined landfill ponds.
Welch said there has already been speculation that coal ash would be coming into Butts County and other local landfills, and that it has their attention at the state capitol.
“In the General Assembly we actually are looking at the state as a whole and what benefits the state as a whole,” he said. “So we’re going to get into these kinds of debates. The coal ash cannot be put into receiving ponds; it has to be put somewhere safe. The question will be if that will be a municipal landfill, or if we’re going to build specialty landfills specifically for coal ash.
“That would be my preference, because we built municipal landfills to hold municipal trash, not the residuals of Georgia Power’s coal-fired plants,” continued Welch. “Sometimes what we have to do is fashion a solution that meets the problem, instead of a solution that just creates more problems. The amount of capacity around the metro Atlanta to take municipal trash and construction trash is limited. We have to deal with those constraints, and I don’t want to lose capacity by taking coal ash that, frankly, wasn’t the municipalities’ responsibility to begin with.”
Jackson Mayor Kay Pippin said the business of the landfill has consequences that really affect everyone on every level.
“In the city of Jackson, when the landfill was new, we agreed that the city would take the leachate off the landfill,” she said. “In exchange, (for treating the leachate) we were able to put most anything we wanted to in that landfill for free. That’s how we took down 100-plus blighted properties. We could get rid of that material for free, so it cost us very little to take it down.
“But our water and sewer treatment people told me the landfill hadn’t brought any leachate in a while. Then I got a call from them saying that landfill had brought a load of leachate and that it was a very toxic load. I said do not let them put that into our system, and the next week we lost our right to put things into the landfill.
“So now we pay what everybody else pays and we have had to pass on the fee for picking up on the side of the road to our taxpayers. In 2018, we picked up 220 tons of items left curbside that would have normally have gotten into that landfill for free, but we had to pay.
“My point is that there are many problems connected to this landfill issue, and maybe between the cities and the county we need to put our own study committee together and start looking at some way to deal with this that we make money off of,” said Pippin. “If I could treat that leachate safely and charge them the premium, that would be a source of revenue for my city. But I can’t afford the systems needed to make this happen. But it should be the state to help us afford these facilities if we can find out ways to deal with it.”
Welch said they are also looking at a possibility of putting funds aside for such scenarios.
“We’ve constantly been looking for legislation to amend our state constitution so there are certain fees that we actually put into a separate account that would be hands off in terms of appropriations by the Legislature,” he said. “That would be a surefire way to have that money available for these very needs when they come up. It would be nice for us to have that money to use on addressing the coal ash issue or how to treat leachate in a municipal waste facility. But right now we don’t have that tool available.”