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Grant could fund cleanup of city landfill

COVINGTON - Grant money may be available to test and clean up an old, abandoned landfill near the future site of the Nelson Heights Community Center in Covington, professional grantwriters said at a public meeting Thursday.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson called the meeting to learn about funding options for the site, where the unlined landfill has sat undisturbed for more than 30 years on property owned by the city.

Henderson said city and county officials have not been responsive to his concerns that the site could be contaminated and pose a health hazard for residents in the Nelson Heights and Green Acres neighborhoods, so he's doing his own research in hopes of getting them on board.

There are several grants available for assessment and cleanup of potentially contaminated sites through the Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Grant Program, said Joseph H. Morici with Concurrent Technologies Corporation, a nonprofit corporation out of Columbia, S.C. that specializes in helping secure such grants.

"It seems to me like you've got a pretty good story to tell in your application," Morici said, noting the proximity of the site to the as-yet unbuilt community center, a church and neighborhoods.

An assessment grant of up to $400,000 could be obtained to determine whether the site is contaminated and develop a clean-up plan, Morici said.

Up to $200,000 to clean up the property is also available, and would require a 20 percent local match and proof that there are additional funds to pay for the remaining cost of the project.

Morici said his one concern is that the grants are not available to entities that contributed to contamination. Henderson said he believes both the city and county used the landfill for dumping.

Morici recommended that the county focus on community-wide grants rather than apply for site specific grants, so that if the site is deemed ineligible, the money could be used for another county brownfield property.

If an assessment grant is awarded, it's almost a guarantee a cleanup grant would be awarded, Morici said.

Concurrent Technologies has a 65 percent success rate of securing grants for brownfield projects and a 100 percent rate on follow-up grants, he added.

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.

"I thought it was a no-brainer myself. As a government, as a county and a city, let's test this. But they seem to want to leave it alone," Henderson said.

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 and 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.

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 local government plans to act, they must do so quickly: grant applications are due Nov. 14. Henderson said he may bring the matter before the Board of Commissioners soon.

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