Henderson wants test of landfill
Commissioner calls for possible cleanup

COVINGTON - District 4 County Commissioner J.C. Henderson is calling for testing and possible clean-up of an abandoned landfill in the city of Covington.

Henderson is holding a public meeting at 11 a.m. today at the Newton County Historic Courthouse, located at 1124 Clark S., to discuss the issue.

Located on city-owned property near where the Nelson Heights Community Center is being constructed at the corner of Laseter and Puckett streets, the landfill was initially targeted by Henderson as a potential youth recreation spot. In April, he requested that the Covington City Council test the soil for contamination.

City Safety Director John Copeland advised the council that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has no regulatory authority over the landfill because of its age - one nearby resident estimated it has been abandoned for 35 to 40 years - and the city is not legally required to test the soil.

However, if the soil is tested and hazardous materials are found, the city would be required to report that to the EPD and would be responsible for cleanup, he said.

Denny Dobbs with Dobbs Environmental said at least five monitoring holes would have to be drilled to test the site for toxins, at a cost of $5,000 per hole.

In addition, the property would need to be covered with between 3 and 5 feet of topsoil, which would cost an additional $80,000 to $100,000.

If hazardous material was found, the city could have to spend hundreds of thousands more dollars on environmental cleanup, Copeland said.

Due to the potential high cost, the city opted not to take action, but did agree to put up a fence to keep children off the site.

Since then, Henderson said he has spoken with city and county officials about what he deems a potential threat to the health of residents of the Nelson Heights and Green Acres neighborhoods. Stormwater runoff flows from the unlined landfill downhill toward their homes, he said. But so far, Henderson said officials have not been responsive, which is why he's holding today's public meeting.

"I've always been the kind of person who has tried to inform people and let them know if something's not good for the community," he said.

Henderson said grants are available from the state to study the site and at least partially fund a cleanup. One such grant was awarded to the city of Social Circle for an environmental cleanup at an old mill, he said.

"At least we ought to test it to find out what's in it and if what's in it is toxic, clean it up," he said.

Henderson said he was referred by the city manager in Social Circle to a company in South Carolina that can assist with obtaining the grants.

Covington City Manager Steve Horton said any proposed cleanup would require the consent of the city council and mayor, since the city holds the deed to the property.

"Per a discussion with John Copeland, we are not aware of any complaints or concerns regarding contamination being made against this site," Horton said. "Secondly, and though not because of the old landfill, we do, as a result of other programs, monitor Dried Indian Creek at three locations downstream of the landfill. In talking with David Croom who oversees the down-stream monitoring, we have seen nothing that would lead us to believe that the creek is being directly impacted by the old landfill site.

"In fact, we have no reason at this time to believe that the landfill is impacting the stream either positively or negatively. The landfill has been closed now for 30 or more years. Given the timeframe that this site has been closed, no known complaints about contamination, and no known negative impact on streams, I do not think that the city would want to take on the expense of a clean up, but that is a question that the elected officials will need to answer for themselves."

If that's true, however, Henderson said he hopes they'll reconsider.

"Personally, I thought it was a no-brainer," he said.

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