County wins long battle over landfill

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Newton County is victorious in a legal dispute that has been dragging on for 13 years.

In an order signed Dec. 17, Superior Court Judge Samuel D. Ozburn granted summary judgment to the county, which was the defendant in a civil action filed by East Georgia Land and Development Company LLC. East Georgia Land has been fighting for more than a decade to develop a private landfill that would serve the metro area on 427 acres just south of the county's current landfill on Lower River Road.

"It brings what I believe is the conclusion of long and difficult litigation," County Attorney Tommy Craig told commissioners Tuesday night.

In 1997, the county's zoning administrator denied a request by East Georgia Land for written verification that the landfill proposal complied with local zoning and land use ordinances. Written verification is required by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to obtain a landfill permit. The zoning administrator denied the request on the grounds that a landfill was not a permitted use of property under the 1985 zoning ordinance, which was in force at that time.

East Georgia Land tried to get an order from Superior Court to compel the county to issue the letter. During court proceedings, it was determined that the zoning ordinance was not attached to the minutes of the Board of Commissioners meeting at the time it was passed and the original ordinance was lost.

The county then took steps to establish a copy of the ordinance as the original, as allowed by Georgia law. East Georgia Land unsuccessfully challenged those efforts, ultimately losing an appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia last year.

East Georgia Land then argued that even if the copy was established as an original, the ordinance was unenforceable because zoning maps were not properly adopted by the county, making the ordnance void.

However, Ozburn's order states the ordinance incorporates the official zoning maps that were referenced to determine the zoning district of the property and that the zoning maps were continuously maintained by the county and made accessible to the public.

"An examination of the established ordinance shows that a landfill is not a permitted use in any zoning district," the order states. "As a result, the zoning administrator of Newton County had no authority to issue the compliance letter to the plaintiff as a matter of law."

Attempts to contact representatives from East Georgia Land and Development were unsuccessful.

James Griffin with the County Attorney's Office previously told the Citizen the case has been unusually drawn out

"It's like a 19-inning baseball game. They happen, but they're rare," Griffin said.

"The Board of Commissioners is quite committed to not having a private landfill in this area open to the metro area's trash," he added.