COVINGTON - A crowd of Lower River Road residents wasn't inclined to accept answers from consultants about methane gas contamination at the Newton County Landfill during a public meeting held Monday night at the historic courthouse.
The meeting was called to address residents' concerns about reports of methane gas and ground water contamination and explain the proposed expansion of the landfill.
Before the meeting began, County Attorney Tommy Craig explained the ground rules: Consultants were to give their presentations, to be followed by a question and answer session.
But halfway through the first presentation, residents began shouting questions, setting the tone for the rest of the evening.
Consultants at times weren't able to get more than a sentence or two out before they were peppered with more questions from the audience.
Residents said they are tired of carrying the burden of waste disposal for the entire county, they believe their health could be in danger from methane gas emissions and they want something done about the odor emanating from the property.
But some said they'll only be happy with one resolution: the closing of the landfill.
"Anything less than the removal of the landfill is a declaration of war, and if that's what you're calling it, let the battle begin," resident Wayne Johnson shouted.
But moving the landfill isn't practical, said Robert Krasko, a hydrogeologist with Geological Environmental and Management Services Inc., hired by the county to conduct environmental monitoring at the landfill.
"The county can't afford it. You can't afford it. It would require raising taxes astronomically," he said.
Krasko said since the landfill is already in place, the county has to make the best use of that space.
To do that, the county has filed an application with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for an internal expansion of the landfill.
The expansion will not increase the property boundary of the landfill, but will be accomplished by combining what are now three separate cells, freeing up additional space and increasing capacity by 30 years.
The landfill includes one unlined and one lined cell for household garbage and one unlined construction and demolition cell.
All waste from the unlined cells will be excavated and dumped back into new lining, said Greg Richardson with Richardson Smith Gardner and Associates Inc., who was hired by the county to evaluate how to improve operations and safety at the landfill.
Liners were not required by the EPD when the household garbage cell was opened in the '70s, Richardson said. Also not in place was a requirement of a 200-foot buffer zone between the edge of waste and the landfill property line.
That requirement will be met with the expansion. The waste will not be closer than it is now to residents and will actually be moved 200 feet farther away from those who live west of the landfill, Richardson said.
Several detention ponds will also be constructed to protect the Yellow River from runoff.
Liquid from the lined cell is pumped to a wastewater treatment facility, while liquid from the unlined cell seeps into the ground, Richardson said.
Krasko said there has been ground water contamination detected, but it is in a "stabilized state," as micro-organisms in the soil are breaking down contaminants.
Methane gas, generated from the breakdown of organic waste, has also been detected, but is being addressed through a monitoring system, Krasko said.
The gas is extracted through wells and is released through a pipe system to prevent it from migrating, he said.
Though some elements of the monitoring system were not properly maintained, all are now working properly, he said.
Testing indicates no gas has migrated across the street, and Krasko said there is no reason to believe residents are in danger.
Monitoring is done monthly, though not at residential homes, because EPD only requires monitoring to be done at sites 300 feet or less from the landfill, and no homes fall within that distance, Krasko said.
The county recently added more monitoring points, though it was not required to by EPD, he said.
Residents said they are concerned about a recent monitoring report indicating methane gas levels as high as 60 percent at some monitoring points. When methane levels reach above 5 percent, a fire or explosion is possible.
Residents said there were as many as eight fires at the landfill last year.
Krasko said landfill fires are common, usually occurring when a crack in the lining lets oxygen through. The right combination of methane and oxygen is required before an explosion takes place, he said.
"You're a scientist and you've got all these degrees and you talk about 'environmentology,' but you've never said nothing about 'peopleology,'" one woman said to Krasko.
One resident said she smells gas in her house every morning and night.
Craig instructed anyone worried about their safety to submit their names and addressees after the meeting. He said someone will test for contamination at their homes.
Residents also questioned what will happen after the landfill reaches capacity in 30 years, saying they are worried the county will expand onto additional land it owns across the street, where the animal shelter is located.
The property was purchased by the county to prevent private companies from opening a landfill.
Richardson said he can't predict what will happen in 30 years, adding, "That's not within my lifetime."
"Well, I hope to be here, and I hope I can leave my home to my children and grandchildren. I want something from the county saying they won't use that as a landfill," Lower River Road resident Connie Boyce said.
The county's application is still pending with the EPD.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.