Hours after Screven County Commissioners voted to impose a 90 day moratorium on certain land use projects pending reviews and updates of the county ordinances, Atlantic Waste Services filed a conditional use application for a “municipal solid waste disposal and recycling facility (landfill).” The application filing raised concerns over whether or not the moratorium, which was approved on July 9th, would apply to the pending landfill proposal.
An Open Records Request seeking a copy of the application submitted by Atlantic Waste Services and documentation and/or confirmation as to whether or not the moratorium would apply to the application given the timing was submitted to the county. Additionally, a copy of the commission meeting minutes was obtained to compare verbiage from the vote in the meeting to the recorded language in what will be the official minutes once approved by the commissioners in the August meeting.
Issues With the Minutes
Minutes provided by the Commissioner’s office on Monday reflect only a ‘draft’ copy of the July meeting minutes and are still subject to approval at the August 13th meeting. The minutes as drafted, however, read that “Commissioner Dixon discussed possible changes or amendments to county ordinances. Commissioner Dixon made a motion to impose a 90 day moratorium for the purpose of reviewing the county codes related landfills [sic]. Commissioner Romeo seconded the motion and it carried by unanimous vote.”
The specificity of the changes related to ‘landfills’ is different than the verbiage cited by the county attorney during the commission meeting earlier this month. The exact language voted on was to “refer the matter to the Planning & Zoning Commissioner and to impose a moratorium for three months to allow time to develop a county-wide Solid Waste Management plan.” The distinguished difference is that counties are directed by the state to have Solid Waste Management plans and Screven County’s plan is out of date, references non-existent protocols and terms, and is not in line with other potentially conflicting ordinances that are also on the books. Additionally, the SWM plan goes beyond ‘landfills’ and applies to ‘land use,’ which was the bulk of the discussion at the July 9th meeting.
While the minutes reflect a unanimous vote by commissioners, it was announced in a landfill discussion group on Facebook over the weekend that Commissioner John Triplett abstained from voting on the moratorium. Both Robert’s Rules of Order and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) require voting by commissioners on every matter unless a conflict of interest arises, which is supposed to be announced. Triplett told the group on Facebook that he abstained because “a moratorium intentionally impedes a business that we know has a plan to come to our community” and could be “interpreted by the courts as an attempt to hinder private enterprise.” He mentioned that it could be an opportunity for Atlantic Waste to sue the county as well, which would cost the taxpayers money.
Also of concern was the noticeable absence of the landfill on the July 9th commission meeting agenda. Citizens worried about whether or not that would leave room for a lawsuit since the matter was brought up suddenly, however, the Georgia Open Meetings Act gives elected officials cover on that practice. OCGA 50-14-1(e)(1) reads that “failure to include on the agenda an item which becomes necessary to address during the course of a meeting shall not preclude considering and acting upon such item.”
Conditional Land Use Application
The application filed by Wall was provided in its entirety by the zoning department and is available for review in the PDF below. The 30-page document has a date of “June 14, 2019” scratched out and replaced with “July 9th, 2019” on the front page. It includes a signed affidavit from the property owner who attests that Wall has permission to seek action by the Planning & Zoning Commission for a “change in zoning from Agricultural to allow solid waste management and disposal.”
It is not clear from the application affidavit why a request for ‘change of zoning from agricultural’ is listed when the AWS representatives have said some of the property will continue to operate agricultural operations.
Also included in the application are statements from an engineer hired by Atlantic Waste, documentation stating the site is ‘consistent’ with the Solid Waste Management Plan, and explanations as to why the proposed landfill meets standards for conditional use. The engineer, Harbin Engineering, P.C., says the project will not be detrimental to use or development of adjacent properties, will not adversely impact health and safety, will not contribute to the depreciation of land values, damages to neighbors are not greater than benefits, will not adversely impact existing uses, and will meet all requirements of the ordinance.
The application also references the outdated and expired Solid Waste Management Plan, which is not the plan under which the county is operating.
Zoning Director Randy Hagan told AllOnGeorgia on Monday that the application submitted by Atlantic Waste Services is incomplete and even without a moratorium, could not not be considered by the Planning & Zoning Commission until it is amended to include all the necessary paperwork. Even so, the moratorium applies to this application as well as any other application that would be governed by the solid waste management plan and its related land use applications.