New insight into how the Gainesville Waste and Recycling was able to start composting food waste came to light Friday, along with a letter from Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division clarifying the landfill’s zoning.
“The county’s position is that food waste was prohibited on the site for use in composting or disposal at the time the EPD permit was issued and remains prohibited,” stated a draft version of the letter The Times obtained.
The county has set up new rules for landfill property owner Ken Cronan to protect residents from the smell of decaying food waste improperly taken and composted into his nearby landfill.
But the controversy remains, in part because Cronan is also business partners with Gov. Nathan Deal, whose business interests are in a blind trust while he is governor.
With the landfill and the misery it has caused residents in the news, it turns out a public meeting about a year ago helped create today’s circumstances.
Only three people attended the hearing that took place at 9 a.m. Dec. 27, 2011, at the Hall County Courthouse Annex, a transcript from EPD showed. Participants included Clint Courson, an employee with Hodges, Harbin, Newberry & Tribble Inc., an environmental engineering consulting firm, and Hall County employees Kevin McInturff and Ken Rearden. The hearing didn’t require any decisions or votes from county officials.
“It’s just a requirement for the EPD to hold these meetings,” Rearden said.
The hearing, which was advertised in The Times on Nov. 24, 2011, was to allow public comment on Cronan’s EPD application to start a composting operation at his landfill on Athens Highway. Those in attendance heard no public comments on the landfill addition, only from a job seeker who came to find work.
It was a major modification of the permit, but Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver had written two letters to Jeffery Cown, then program manager of the solid waste management program, saying composting on the property complied with local zoning and land-use laws.
The landfill was zoned construction/demolition landfill and inert landfill. Cronan got approval in January. He applied and received a minor modification to compost food waste in June, which didn’t need a public hearing.
Oliver has said he didn’t know Cronan was going to bring food waste in.
“We require county verification,” said Cown, assistant chief of the land protection branch of the EPD, in a November interview.
It’s unclear which county staff members knew of Cronan’s permit application besides the two public works employees and Oliver.
Knighton said Cronan was communicating directly with EPD, but he didn’t have the same level of communication with county employees, which is now a requirement, Knighton said.
The final version of the letter, which he declined to give The Times until Monday, has an additional sentence specifying that the elements of the compost operation are also required to be free from prohibited materials, Knighton said.
The commissioners agreed to send a clarifying letter at the board’s meeting Nov. 29.