If the Bernard Garrett family gets a favorable vote from the Board of Commissioners after Tuesday night’s public hearing on its request for a permit for a materials recovery facility on Dials Mill Road, it will have passed a first hurdle in getting a state of Georgia permit for the facility.
Before the state would issue its permit, it would hold another hearing where the public could once again state its support or voice its opposition to the proposed plan.
The permitting process with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division probably would last about six to eight months, according to Murray Griffin, president of Atlantic Coast Consulting, who is serving as an adviser to the Garretts as they move forward with plans for the materials recovery facility (MRF).
The Garretts would have to submit a much more detailed plan for the proposed facility than they have submitted so far, Griffin said, spelling out plant operations and design, including the location of equipment to be used.
|Bernard and Simon Garrett|
April 13, at MRF Site
Public scrutiny is an inherent part of the process, he said, and the public could offer comment on the proposal as it was being reviewed. A public hearing would be automatic, rather than something that the public would have to request, according to Griffin.
But the Garretts first need a positive vote from at least three of the five Oconee County Commissioners on Tuesday night.
The BOC meeting has been moved from the Commission meeting room to the much larger Courtroom 1 on the third floor of the courthouse in anticipation of a large turnout, County Clerk Jane Greathouse announced on Friday afternoon. The meeting will start at 7 p.m.
About 100 people attended the Planning Commission meeting on April 15, when that advisory group recommended by a vote of 9-2 that the BOC grant the Garretts the special use permit they are seeking to operate the MRF on land zoned for agricultural use.
The Garretts employ about 30 people out of their Roll Off Systems operations center in Oconee County and another six or seven at their Walton C&D Landfill, according to Simon Garrett, son of Bernard Garrett. Supporters of the Garretts outnumbered opponents at the Planning Commission meeting.
Since that meeting, the opposition has gotten more organized, sending out postcards to county residents, creating an online petition and setting up a Facebook page.
The Garretts have a web site for their businesses that emphasizes the family’s background in agriculture, a key part of its presentation to the Planning Commission, its commitment to recycling, also a part of the Planning Commission presentation, and the statement that the “business is dedicated to Christ.”
Need Local Permit for State Permit
The Garretts already are operating what the state calls a “Recovered Materials Processing Facility” at the 1441 Dials Mill Road site where they propose to put the MRF. They don’t need any permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for the “Recovered Materials Processing Facility.”
To get a permit for the MRF, however, the Garretts have to demonstrate that they have county approval of the use of the land for that purpose.
This permitting requirement was emphasized by Griffin when he spoke to the Planning Commission on April 15. Griffin said the permit should address concerns of the neighbors.
Griffin’s assertion about the impact of the EPD permit was challenged by a neighbor soon after Griffin spoke. (See the video of Joshua Sharp.)
UDC Lists Allowed Activities
The Oconee County Unified Development Code provides a list of “Waste Management and Remediation Services” and specifies if they are allowed in various zoning categories, including the A-1 code now in place for the 1441 Dials Mill Road property.
“Recovered Materials Processing Facility” does not appear on the list, but “Recycling and Materials Recovery Facility” does.
And “Recycling and Materials Recovery Facilities” are allowed in an A-1 code only with a special use permit, which is what the Garretts are seeking.
The Garretts also are asking for a hardship variance to allow them to run an estimated 100 trucks per day on Dials Mill Road.
That variance request is necessary because Dials Mill Road is currently classified by the county as a “Minor Collector,” while the county’s Unified Development Code states that “Recycling and Materials Recovery Facilities” must be accessed from a road classified as an arterial or major collector road.
Solid Waste Handling Permit
The Garretts currently have a solid waste collection operations permit from the state for Roll Off Systems, whose operational base and office is on B. Garrett Drive off Dials Mill Road north of the proposed MRF site.
The current Unified Development Code does not allow such a use on A-1 land, but the code at the time the operation started in 1992 may have allowed it, according to B.R. White, head of the Oconee County Planning Department and Code Enforcement Office.
White said on April 26 that his office has not yet had time to investigate that issue given the workload created by the MRF application.
According to consultant Griffin, the Garretts will be seeking a solid waste handling permit for the MRF. That facility is to operate under the name Harvest Recycling.
They also could be required by the state to obtain an air quality permit because they are grinding concrete, wall board, asphalt and wood as part of the existing operation at 1441 Dials Mill Road, Griffin said when I talked to him by telephone on Thursday.
The Garretts also have a permit to operate Walton C&D Landfill, which they opened in 2005 on land near the Apalachee River just west of where U.S. 78 crosses from Oconee into Walton County.
The Walton construction and demolition landfill is routinely inspected by the EPD, according to Thomas Manget, an environmental specialist with the Athens office. Manget told me when I talked with him on April 25 that he is the one who handles those inspections.
“It is a well run landfill,” he said. “They have gotten good evaluations every time.”
Manget said Roll Off Systems operations center is not inspected routinely. If there is a complaint, the EPD would do an inspection, he said.
The fact that there have not been inspections means there have been no complaints, he added.
Manget said he did visit the 1441 Dials Mill Road site on Feb. 4 in response to what he called an “inquiry” from an adjacent landowner asking about the dumpsters and roll off storage containers from Roll Off Systems on the site.
Manget’s Letter After Visit
Manget wrote to Simon Garrett on Feb. 13 and thanked him for discussing “your current solid waste activities and proposed activities” for the property on 1441 Dials Mill Road.
Manget reminded Garrett of the difference between a MRF and the Recovered Materials Processing Facility already in operation and told him of the need for a permit for the MRF.
He also told him to be “aware” of the requirement that he could not store recovered materials on the site even as it operates today. During any 90-day period, Manget wrote, the Garretts must recycle 60 percent of the materials coming onto the site.
Manget said Garrett needed to maintain accurate records to document compliance with that requirement.
I obtained a copy of Manget’s letter from the files that are part of the MRF application in the Oconee County Planning Department.
The Planning Department files also contain a letter written by G. Robert Bishop, manager of the Athens EPD office, to Bernard Garrett on June 19, 2001, dealing with composting on the 1441 Dials Mill Road site.
The letter acknowledged Garrett’s “request to conduct a composting project on your farm for the purpose of on-site top soil development and enhancement to your farm property.”
Bishop said that, after his visit to the site, he had concluded “there is no adverse environmental concerns for using this site as proposed by you.”
The letter told Garrett only “landclearing debris” could be used in the project, the debris had to be brought onto the site by Garrett or people under his supervision and that no material “can leave the site once it is brought to the site unless approved by EPD.”
Portable Toilet Business
The Garretts also operate a portable toilet business out of the operations center for Roll Off Systems and store toilets on that site and on the 1441 Dials Mill Road property.
Simon Garrett told me in a telephone conversation on April 26 that these toilets are pumped and cleaned before they are returned to these sites. The solid waste and water from the cleaning is hauled to sewage treatment plants in Walton County or Athens-Clarke County, he said.
Chris Thomas, director of the Oconee County Utility Department, said the county does not provide sewer service to either of the sites used by the Garretts for storage of the portable toilets.
He also said the county has not been accepting portable toilet waste, which contains special chemicals used in those toilets, at the county’s two sewage treatment facilities.
Water From MRF
The question of how the Garretts proposed to handle water from the MRF site came up at the Planning Commission meeting.
In our telephone conversation, Griffin distinguished between the storm water retention facility, which will gather and hold water from the impervious surfaces surrounding the building used to sort waste at the proposed MRF site, and an underground storage tank used to store water from inside the sorting facility itself.
Inside the building, which will be enclosed on three sides, trucks will dump solid waste, including some household waste, onto a floor, where it will be sorted, with recyclables pulled out and other materials gathered up for shipment to a landfill.
The stormwater facility will be built to county and state specifications, Griffin said, and would not be different from a similar facility required for commercial and residential sites in the county.
Any water that is in the truck when it is dumped inside the building will run into drains and into an underground storage tank, Griffin said. The same will be true of water that will be used in cleaning down the floor.
“It is not like they are going to be in there hosing down that floor every night or every day,” he said, so the volume of water will not be great. The contents of the storage tank will be hauled away for treatment as needed, he said.
Griffin was in his Savannah office when we spoke. He also has an office in Roswell.
I met with Simon and Bernard Garrett on April 13, in response to an invitation from them following a post I had made on April 10 about their special use permit application.
In that meeting, Bernard, 69, and Simon, 32, told me the history of the family company and emphasized that it had become a vertically integrated enterprise.
They said that they purchased and built Walton C&D Landfill after they realized that their biggest cost in operating Roll Off Systems was the tipping fees they paid to landfills to accept the waste they collected.
They said they want to build Harvest Recycling as a way of extending the life of that landfill by recycling materials that would otherwise go into it. And they can save transportation costs by not hauling to the landfill and gain revenue from the sale of materials they can recycle.
2003 Landfill Fight
Walton C&D Landfill is built on property that was part of a construction and demolition landfill project proposed by South Eastern Land Services in 2003 that also included 422 acres in Oconee County.
The Oconee County acreage was along the Apalachee River north of U.S. 78 and west of Choyce Johnson Road–not so far from the proposed Dials Mill Road site of the MRF.
The BOC turned down the request on Dec. 2, 2003. South Eastern filed suit but asked for the suit to be dismissed about a year later. Ultimately the land went into receivership and is owned today by EA3 Investments, LLC.
Citizens, many wearing T-shirts protesting the landfill, packed Courtroom 1 at the courthouse for the hearing on the special use permit request by South Eastern Land Services to operate the landfill on land zoned for agriculture.
The vote of the BOC was unanimous.
Citizens who are impacted by this facility should contact citizens who have been dversley impacted by the waste facility located south of Watkinsville. There were restrictions placed on the facility as to operating times that were intended to mitigate noise in the surrounding RESIDENTIAL area but the County Government is not enforcing the restriction. Choosing to plead costs rather than go to court. Past experience may be an indicator of how reliable the County Government will be in this case.
How pathetic that people like the Garrets and corrupt members of the County Government can have such a profound affect on so many hard working home owners in that area.
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