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Board split on future of landfill in Hall County
Public hearing will be held Thursday during regular meeting
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Juan Jaramillo of Flowery Branch throws away a bag of trash Monday at the Blackshear Place Compactor Site on Atlanta Highway in South Hall. Hall County commissioners are considering privatizing the county’s waste management, which includes any trash compactor site, the landfill and the recycling center. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

A growing heap of garbage was at the bottom of a discussion Monday at the Hall County Board of Commissioners work session.

The commission was split on whether allowing a private waste management company to let trash into Hall County from surrounding counties would be worth the increased revenue if it shortened the life of the county landfill.

With the question of extending a request for proposal on the table, Chairman Tom Oliver shelved the decision until Thursday’s public hearing at the county commission meeting.

Hall County Public Works and Utilities Director Ken Rearden prepared a presentation for the session, but the majority of it was postponed until Thursday.

For the past two years, Hall County’s waste management, including the landfill, trash compactors and recycling services, have operated at a loss, Rearden said.

In 2008, local communities negotiated tipping fees lower than Hall County’s $40 per ton rate, resulting a $250,000 loss for the county.

Despite the losses, Oliver objected to the idea of privatization. At the session he argued that bringing more garbage into Hall County may increase profits, but at too great a cost to the county’s quality of life. By taking in outside trash, Hall County could shorten the lifespan of its landfill from 30 years to six years, depending on the volume of trash that would enter the county.

“My question is, how much do you want to sell out Hall County for?” Oliver said during the discussion.

If a private company assumed control of waste management, the county would be paid a franchise fee, profit percentage or another form of payment based on the volume of garbage that enters the county.

“It’s all about the volume (of garbage) you want to accept,” Rearden said.

Commissioner Craig Lutz supported the request for proposal to hear from private companies because more trash would equal more profits for the county.

“Every ton we do per day is revenue,” he said during the session. “And if we were to cut the life of that landfill back down to 20 years, that would be about 750 tons a day, and that could be quite a bit of revenue for the county that we are currently avoiding.”

Hall County’s landfill covers 255 acres, with 94.2 acres available for waste. In 2010, the landfill and trash compactor site took in 196 tons of trash per day.

The landfill is parceled into cells spanning from 5 to 12 acres that can accommodate waste. Hall County’s landfill has about 59 available acres, Rearden said.

Commissioner Ashley Bell said he’d like to extend the request to see if any environmentally savvy companies could offer more renewable energy options, such as recycling methane gas released by waste sites.

“The benefit of having the private sector look at this is they’re on the cutting edge of technology... If they can take this trash and then convert it into energy and sell it somewhere else, that makes the cell last longer and potentially that could be profitable for the county, too,” Bell said. “I mean, it’s a new day in renewable energy. We want to look at, what’s the environmental impact going to be if we increase the amount of trash?”

The public hearing will be held Thursday at the Georgia Mountain Center during the 6 p.m. commission meeting.

“It all comes down to the philosophy the county wants to adopt,” Commissioner Billy Powell said during the work session. “Do you want to make money, or do you want your landfill to last for 30 years?”

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