Landfill remains hot topic

COVINGTON - Residents on and around Lower River Road aren't giving up their fight to close the Newton County Landfill and get assurance their health hasn't been affected by methane gas or groundwater contamination.

Three public meetings have been held to address residents' concerns, including one Monday night that lasted almost three hours.

At Tuesday night's Board of Commissioners meeting, District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson broached the topic again.

"My heart went out to those people because I felt like to a certain extent they have been let down," Henderson said.

He then called on Lower River Road resident Charles Johnson to speak.

But District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing interjected, saying it wasn't proper for a non-board member who was not on the agenda to speak until the citizens' comments portion of the meeting.

Ewing pointed out that residents have had three meetings to express their concerns and were given the opportunity at Monday night's meeting to submit their names and addresses and have someone come to their homes to test for methane gas.

Only three residents came forward, he said.

"I don't think it's appropriate for this board to spend time again on this tonight," Ewing said. "If we've got a citizen who wants to make comments on this tonight, it should be at the end of the meeting."

County Attorney Tommy Craig confirmed that the correct time for Johnson to speak was during citizens' comments.

Henderson then made a motion that every house on Lower River Road, Mountain View Circle and in the Spring Hill neighborhood should be tested for methane gas and all homeowners should be given methane monitors.

He added that the county should provide monthly reports of methane gas monitoring at the landfill to a citizens committee of area residents.

The motion was seconded by District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons, but failed by a 2-3 vote.

When Johnson's time to speak came more than an hour later, he had harsh words for the commissioners.

"Are you doing the right thing? Think about it. You are looking at financial gain you can get," he said.

"We have paid our patriotism and loyalty and our commitment to this county. We are asking for the same loyalty and commitment we have given you, in paying our taxes," he added.

Johnson said reports showing methane gas levels as high as 60 percent at the landfill are proof of negligence on the county's part.

He said the monitoring system that worked improperly was a waste of taxpayer's money.

Johnson asked the county to pay for blood testing for all residents within a 3-mile radius of the landfill, for the Centers for Disease Control to perform tests for "specific illnesses" on residents that have lived in the vicinity for 20 or more years and for the landfill to be closed and relocated to a new site.

Johnson said he wanted a response in writing from the county before the board's next public meeting.

Commissioners did not respond to his demands.

A consultant hired by the county to conduct environmental monitoring at the landfill said Monday that while methane gas is a problem at the landfill, there is no evidence that the gas has migrated across the street and into residents' homes.

Elements of the monitoring system that were broken have been repaired and are working, he said.

He also said groundwater contamination resulting from liquid seeping into the ground in an unlined cell is in a "stable state," with contaminants being broken down by micro-organisms in the soil.

The county has applied for a permit to expand the landfill and increase its life up to 30 years. The expansion will not increase property boundaries but will occur internally by combining three separate cells to free up unused air space.

All waste in unlined cells will be excavated and dumped into a large lined cell.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.