Monday, August 19, 2013

Oconee County Has Not Yet Investigated Zoning Issues Raised by Garrett Family Rezone Request

EPD Received Complaints

When the Garrett family sought local and state permission to convert its recovered materials processing facility on Dials Mill Road into a materials recovery facility earlier this year, it invited both public and government scrutiny of its current operations.

As a result of that scrutiny, four citizens filed complaints with the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources about the recovered materials processing facility at 1441 Dials Mill Road or about Roll Off Systems, headquartered nearby on B. Garrett Drive.

The state concluded there were no violations of state regulations at either site.

Oconee County officials also took a closer look at both operations and concluded that, at least on paper, neither was consistent with the agricultural classification of the properties.

So far, however, county officials have not yet followed up on that initial determination.

On List For Investigation

B.R. White, director of Code Enforcement for the county, told me when I talked with him about the Garrett properties on July 23 that he had not “had a chance to get to it yet.”

White said it was on his “to do list,” but it was not at the “forefront.”

He told me in an email message today that the situation had not changed.

“If I had 10 people yelling at me I would move it to the top,” White told me back in July. “I would find a way to move it up in the stack.”

Garretts Asked To Expand Operation

The Garretts acknowledged during the hearing for their special use permit to operate a materials recovery facility (MRF) at 1441 Dials Mill Road that they already were doing a type of recycling at the site. They said they bring trucks from their trash hauling business to the site and remove and temporarily store types of recyclable materials.

Simon Garrett at May 7, 3013, Hearing

They asked the county to allow them to expand that operation to dump and sort a wider range of materials, but the Board of Commissioners turned down the request on May 7.

Planner Brad Callender told me at the time he was not aware of the nature of the operation until the Garretts made the rezone request.

Bernard Garrett and his family have operated Roll Off Systems, a trash hauling company, from the B. Garrett address since 1998.

Both that site and the 1441 Dials Mill Road property are zoned for agriculture.

Order of Investigation

White said his plans are to start with an investigation of the recycling facility and work with the state EPD to determine what is the responsibility of the state and what is the responsibility of the county.

He said he first would determine if he believed the current land use were a violation of county zoning laws. If so, he said he “would try to pursue a course of compliance” and “if that didn’t work, go to citation in court.”

White said he next would investigate the land use at the headquarters of Roll Off Systems. That case is complicated, he said, because zoning laws have changed since the company first began operations.

It is possible, he said, that the current land use is “grandfathered” in with the zoning law changes.

EPD Complaints

The first complaint filed with the EPD was on Feb. 7 by Donald Hammond, whose family owns property adjacent to the proposed MRF site, according to records I obtained through an open records request I filed with the EPD.

Thomas Manget, environmental specialist with the Northeast District Office of the EPD in Athens, investigated that complaint and told Bernard Garrett and son Simon that they were operating not only a vegetative composting project but also a recovered materials processing facility and that rules governed how long they could store materials on the site.

On April 26 Barbara Gallo filed another complaint, telling the EPD that she believed the Garretts were not meeting the requirements for a recovered materials processing facility and, in fact, were operating a “MRF without a permit.”

The document does not give an address for Gallow.

Unannounced Visit Followed

Manget and college Pete Dasher “drove to the Roll Off systems site” on April 26 “unannounced,” according to the report the pair filed with the EPD.

Simon and Bernard Garrett arrived on the site while they were there, they wrote, and “We questioned the Garretts about one particular roll-off that appeared to be a mix of all type of material,” the inspectors said in their report.

“Most of what we could see could be considered comingled recovered material, such as cardboard, lumber, and plastic containers, but some we were unsure about so we recommend it be transported to a landfill, which was done during our visit.”

The pair took 10 photographs that they shared with EPD managers, “who agreed that it appears they are operating a recovered materials processing facility.”

Complaint About Roll Off Headquarters

Jerry Garrett complained to the EPD on May 6 about the operation on B. Garrett Drive.

Jerry Garrett, no address given, said that “they wash the trucks and containers and the washwater goes on the ground.”

Manget said he investigated and was told by Simon Garrett that the company pressure washes “an average” of two vehicles per day and “there is some soap in the pressure washer.”

“He said other waste collection companies do the same thing,” Manget wrote. “I was assured they do not dump the portapotty contents there and do not wash out the units.”

During the May 7 Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Margaret Hale asked Simon Garrett if he would be washing trucks at the 1441 Dials Mill Road site. He said he would not. He said they would be washed elsewhere.

Roll Off also operates a portapotty business and stores the portable toilets on both of its sites.

Final EPD Complaint Anonymous

The EPD received a final complaint on May 24.

The caller said the Garretts store “portapotty waste” and operate a MRF at the 1441 Dials Mill Road site.

Manget wrote that the complaint had been investigated earlier without any evidence of violations.

“If there is additional information to indicate improper handling of waste or contamination of state’s waters, it would need to be provided by knowledgeable callers,” he wrote.


Joshua Sharp said...

Thanks for this excellent reporting. Hopefully the county officials will actually get this sorted out quickly and fairly.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr Becker for bringing this back to the attention of the residents of Oconee County.
As of August 07, Roll Off was still washing their Garbage Trucks at their 1100 B Garrett Road location.
They are also still operating at the 1441 Dials Mill Road location. I think we are all wasting our time, The county or the EPD are going to do anything about the illegal operations of Roll Off Systems.
Just my honest opinion.