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Millions down the drain, now Hall moving sludge south
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Spout Springs Wastewater Facility operations specialist Matt Collins walks past a container as it fills with sludge Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. Starting July 1, the Hall County Landfill will no longer accept sludge, a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process. - photo by Scott Rogers

For almost a decade, Hall County was losing almost $900,000 a year processing sludge, a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process.

The county was charging municipalities slightly more than $1 per ton to accept sludge at the Hall County Landfill, but processing costs vary between $200 and $400 per ton. 

The money spent to process sludge has been coming out of the landfill fund, one of the county’s enterprise funds. The dollars in that fund come from tipping fees at the landfill. 

Leadership changes have led to a gap in institutional knowledge about the agreements with the municipalities, Public Works Director Srikanth Yamala said. Now, officials are trying to do what they can to correct the issue.

Starting July 1, the Hall County Landfill will stop accepting sludge. 

Gainesville, Flowery Branch and Lula have been sending their sludge to the county landfill but will now be seeking other options. 

Hall has found a new landfill to send its sludge, the Cedar Grove Landfill in Barnesville, a city in Lamar County near the cities of Forsyth and Griffin. The Hall County Board of Commissioners approved an agreement Feb. 27 with the Lamar County Regional Solid Waste Authority, and Hall’s sludge could start going to Barnesville as early as next week.

County officials have reached out to the cities to inform them about the Barnesville landfill.

Processing sludge has been a costly operation for the county, which has been charging the municipalities only $20 to take each load of sludge. Each load is about 15 to 18 tons, and the county landfill has been taking in about 3,000 tons a year between unincorporated Hall and the participating municipalities.

Lamar County will charge Hall $75 per ton of sludge, and the county expects to spend about $214,000 a year to transport and process its sludge there, according to Public Works Director Srikanth Yamala. 

Flowery Branch and Gainesville reached agreements for the sludge processing with the county in 2012. Lula signed its agreement in 2013. Those agreements established the $20 per load rate, which has remained steady over the years.

Yamala joined the public works department in August 2019, first in an interim role following the resignation of previous director Ken Rearden. He had previously been the county’s planning and development director. 

Yamala became the permanent public works director in November. He said initial conversations about sludge processing began last year before he moved to the department.

The agreements signed in 2012 and 2013 include a condition that the fee for accepting sludge at the landfill could be re-evaluated after two years. Yamala said the fees were not re-evaluated.

“We’re always looking for ways to better ourselves, whether it’s policy or conducting day-to-day business internally and also offering services to our citizens,” Yamala said.

In addition to concerns about cost, space at the landfill was another factor, Yamala said. The landfill is projected to have a 20- to 25-year lifespan, he said, but about three to five years could be added now that sludge will not be going there.

Municipalities were notified in January that the county would stop taking sludge in July, Yamala said.

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