Issues surrounding the possible addition of a methane gas refinery plant and the expansion of a north Forsyth landfill were once again discussed by county commissioners at a recent work session.
On Tuesday, commissioners talked about conducting an environmental assessment at Eagle Point Landfill and whether to hire an environmental engineer as a consultant after numerous residents expressed concern over the safety and environmental impact of the plant.
The issue has been a contentious one for several months due to the proposed expansion of the landfill and an application for a methane gas refinery plant to go at the landfill. Other than the location, the two projects are not connected.
The proposed refinery plant would convert gases like methane and carbon dioxide to natural gas to be sold to Atlanta Gas Light. At their last regular meeting, commissioners postponed a decision to rezone the property to the Oct. 19 meeting.
Members of Stop Trashing Forsyth and the Etowah, a group opposed to the expansion, and other residents living near the landfill have voiced concerns over both the expansion and the proposed plant. Their concerns have centered on the impact on community health and the impact on the nearby Etowah River.
Last week, the group sent a letter to commissioners asking for an environmental impact assessment, public health survey, an ordinance to protect the health of residents, a legal review of the zoning, for commissioners to write a letter to the state Environmental Protection Division requesting a delayed decision and for commissioner to take no further action.
Neighbors have voiced support for a third-party to perform a study ahead of the expansion.
“They feel like they don’t trust the data that’s been given to them by [landfill owner] Advance Disposal and even the EPD,” said District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills. “They’re wanting a third-party, unbiased report.”
Chris Klamke, with Atlantic Coastal Consulting, a solid waste consulting firm, spoke with commissioners about the issues.
Klamke said an environmental assessment would typically occur before the original project construction and the EPD handles reviews and the permitting process and an independent review “doesn’t necessarily fit into that process.” He said there could also be issues since Eagle Point is a private business and not a municipal landfill.
“It’s a little unusual in this circumstance,” Klamke said. “It’s not unusual for the public to be concerned about a landfill growing in their area and wanting to be knowledgeable on how the process works, what the controls are, how they are monitored, permitted and all those things.
“We see this a lot, but we don’t know that an environmental assessment is going to change the direction this permit goes.
If the EPD did find something wrong with the plant, Klamke said, it would be addressed in the review. Klamke said he had been in the industry for 22 years and saw no red flags for the expansion.
Commissioners have stressed the decision to expand the landfill was a state decision and out of their hands. County Attorney Ken Jarrard gave a history of the county’s past with the landfill, which led to the landfill winning two court cases against the county.
Commissioners also discussed a possible environmental engineer to look at the proposal. When commissioners asked about going with someone from their engineering department, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said an outsider would be better.
“We just wanted to make sure that we have the technical expertise to be able to meaningfully engage on these issues,” Jarrard said. “I think this is a niche area … we just don’t want to leave items on the table that are, ‘Oh my gosh, anyone who does this for a living would have known to raise this as an issue.’”
Jarrard also said many of the issues would have been easy to handle in the past rather than playing catch-up.
Mills said other municipalities receive royalties for the methane and the county should look into it. Chairman Todd Levent also said an environmental lawyer might be appropriate.
No action was taken on either item, but county staff will work with ACC to bring back recommendations and an attorney might be retained.