Oconee County Magistrate Court Judge Samuel Barth on Friday ruled Oconee Waste Transport not guilty of the county’s charge that the trash hauler violated the county’s noise ordinance by tipping dumpsters from a commercial site on Epps Bridge Parkway sometime between Dec. 29, 2016, and Jan. 20, 2017.
Clyde Edwin Pittman, an Athens plastic surgeon who lives at 1591 Tanglebrook Drive just off Epps Bridge Parkway, testified in the trail before Barth on Jan. 12 that he observed OWT emptying trash before 7 a.m. at IHOP on Epps Bridge Parkway and called the county to complain.
Now retired Oconee County Code Enforcement Officer Paul Smith issued a citation to OWT on Jan. 23, 2017, but Smith testified in the trial before Barth that he did not witness the violation and had issued the citation based on Pittman’s complaint.
Barth, in his written statement, gave no explanation for his verdict of not guilty.
OWT is owned by Matt Elder, a member of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority.
|Dumpsters Behind IHOP, 1/21/2018|
Elder pleaded not guilty to the ordinance violation on May 5, 2017.
Smith, in the Jan. 23 citation of a violation of the county Noise Ordinance, said it occurred at a “business located Epps Bridge Parkway area.”
Smith wrote in the citation that OWT was “creating loud noise prior to 7:00 a.m.” in violation of the county’s ordinance.
Section 26-32 of the County Code of Ordinances states that “No person shall create or cause to be created an excessively loud and disturbing noise within the unincorporated area of the county between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.”
Pittman told Barth at the Jan. 12 trial that he has been awakened in his home going back five years by haulers picking up trash from dumpsters at businesses on Epps Bridge Parkway.
Pittman said his bedroom faces Epps Bridge Parkway and the noise was loud enough that it was waking his wife and him up every morning.
Pitman said on a number of occasions he got up, got dressed and drove to the site of the sound to witness the emptying of the dumpsters.
“The fork lift picks it up,” he said. “They get it up to where the trash goes into the truck. And then they shake it back and forth trying to get the trash out. And then they drop it on the concrete.”
This lasts 10 to 12 seconds, Pittman said, but there are multiple dumpsters on the site, so sometimes the noise lasts 7 to 10 minutes.
“What date did Oconee Waste Transport make the noise?” OWT attorney Jeffrey Rothman asked Code Enforcement Officer Smith, who retired in October after 14 years of service to the county, during cross examination at the Jan. 12 trial.
“I don’t know that off the top of my head,” Smith replied.
“You can’t say for certain, that Oconee Waste Transport made any particular noise during that date range with certainty, can you?” Rothman said in response.
“I can’t say for certain that anybody made the noise because I wasn’t there,” Smith replied, saying “We had to go by what he says,” referring to Pittman.
Comments On Ordinance
Smith said he had issued the citation to OWT as a “last resort,” having tried to work out the issue informally prior to issuing the citation.
Smith volunteered to Rothman that he felt the county’s Noise Ordinance was vague.
“I hate saying this. This is probably not the place to say it,” Smith said. “I don’t dispute the ordinance is no good. I don’t dispute that. I don’t have a problem with that.”
“We’re not really telling him to do it,” Smith said regarding the request that OWT not dump before 7 a.m. “We’re asking him to do it because we don’t have an ordinance that tells him he can’t do it.”
2012 Court Case
The Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted in 2010 to set aside the Future Development Map it approved in March of 2008 and the rezone 6.2 acres at 1750 Greensboro Highway just south of Watkinsville so Elder could move his Oconee Waste Transport business from downtown Watkinsville.
A number of the citizens from a small subdivision off Green Ferry Road and near the Elder property spoke against the rezone request, saying the rezone and business was not compatible with the rural and residential area.
To protect those citizens, the Board of Commissioners restricted the hours of operation from 6 a.m. and until 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
In 2012, then Magistrate Court Judge Eric Norris found Elder in violation of the county zoning ordinance for operating his Oconee Waste Transport business before 6 a.m.
In the trial in 2012, Elder admitted operating his trucks on his lot before the allowed opening time. Elder’s attorney contended that since Oconee Waste Transport had not opened the business office, it was not in violation of the zoning restriction.
After Elder was found guilty, he indicated he would appeal, and the county asked Magistrate Court Judge Norris to vacate his ruling to save money that would have been spent on the appeal and because, it contended, citizens had stopped complaining about the noise.
In the end, OWT moved only part of its business from its Watkinsville site on Experiment Station Road.
In July of 2016, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners awarded a part of a solid waste collection and disposal contract to Oconee Waste Transport even though its initial bid was more than 7 percent higher than the competing bids.
In awarding the bid to OWT, the Board of Commissioners went against the recommendations of County Attorney Daniel Haygood and of Public Works Director Emil Beshara.
The commissioners told Beshara they wanted to find a way to award the contract to Oconee Waste Transport because it was a local firm.
Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes made a motion to give OWT the contract for the dumpsters. Commissioner Mark Saxon seconded the motion.
Then County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko asked the pair to amend the motion to require Elder to agree to meet the low bid, which Elder said orally he would do.
Commissioners Jim Luke, now retired, joined Saxon and Wilkes in bypassing the low bidder in favor of OWT.
The Board had only three members at that time.
Industrial Development Authority
Elder, whose full name is Courtney M. Elder Jr., is part of an old Oconee County family.
The Oconee County Board of Commissioners appointed him to the Industrial Development Authority, the most important citizen committee in the county, in 2010, just after the rezone decision.
Terms of appointment are for two years, and he has been reappointed every two years since.
Elder’s current term expires Dec. 31, 2018.