A controversial plan to build a rail spur that would allow as much as 10,000 tons of coal ash to be brought to a Wayne County landfill has been halted.
Republic Services, the company seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the rail line, withdrew its applications this week amid an all-out push from several fronts against the plan, the Press-Sentinel in Jesup reported. Opponents call the coal ash toxic and say it threatens area waterways, namely the Altamaha River, and wetlands.
The Broadhurst Environmental Landfill team announced Wednesday that it is voluntarily withdrawing three permit applications that are pending before federal and state authorities.
“We take great pride in being a good neighbor in Wayne County,” said Drew Isenhour, area president of Republic Services, owner of the Broadhurst Landfill, via a released statement. “Part of being a good neighbor involves listening, which we have done and will continue to do. We believe that by withdrawing these pending permit applications, while we sit down with community leaders to further explore potential common ground, we are going above and beyond to demonstrate our commitment to Wayne County.”
Specifically, the landfill team is withdrawing a 2015 request to modify a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to accommodate an expanded rail facility, along with a related request before the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for a state water quality certification.
Additionally, the team is withdrawing an application that is before the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to amend the Landfill’s solid waste handling permit to allow for a monofill for disposal of coal combustion residuals, or coal ash.
Chip Lake, spokesman for the Broadhurst Landfill, responded Thursday saying that a multitude of factors led to the decision to pull the permits and that while Republic believes the project was sound, over time, it became apparent the company would not be able to achieve consensus on the permit application.
“By pulling those permit applications back, we believe we can have more productive conversations with local stakeholders by relieving some of the tension in the air and start fresh together,” Lake said.
Environmental groups like No Ash at All, One Hundred Miles, Center for a Sustainable Coast and the Satilla and Altamaha Riverkeeper organizations fought against the plan. Area newspapers like The Press-Sentinel in Jesup, city and county commissions — including the city of Brunswick — Wayne County officials and residents, state Rep., Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, and state Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, also opposed the plan. Ligon and Jones each introduced legislation in their respective chambers seeking for more protections, accountability and transparency in the process to find places to store coal ash.
Jones said Thursday the withdrawals are a huge victory for the Southeast Georgia community.
“The decision to stop this project is an example of the importance of citizens at the state and local level weighing in on decisions like this,” Jones said. “With Republic’s decision, citizens will know that coal ash storage will not impact the waters from which they drink, fish swim and play.”
Jones cautioned vigilance is still needed throughout the state because there are other areas where storage of massive amounts of coal ash municipal landfills are being considered.
Coal ash, the substance produced by coal-fired power generation, contains mercury, lead and arsenic, which prompted the outcry. The mammoth Floridan aquifer lies below ground and furnishes Savannah and Brunswick with drinking water.
According to Lake, the landfill team remains committed to keeping the community informed about site plans, including any future rail operations that support waste disposal.
“There are no current pending permit applications to expand the rail yard,” Lake said. “We are already permitted to accept coal ash but we are choosing not to accept the material. We do believe in the concept of rail as it is a safe and more efficient way to transport waste material. In the event that we choose to pursue rail operations in the future, we will be engaging with the community and building upon the lessons learned through this process. No decision has been made internally with respect to any additional site modifications.”
David Kyler with the Center for a Sustainable Coast said the legal fund created to fight the Republic plan and the research his organization took on were important factors in what he called a victory.
“We are very grateful for Republic’s withdrawal of proposed permits which would have enabled as much as 10,000 tons a day of toxic coal-ash to be brought into the Broadhurst Landfill near Jesup,” Kyler said in a prepared statement.
He continued: “Thanks to over $90,000 in donations raised through our Coal Ash Legal Fund, we were able to pay for such legal work that helped clear the path toward Republic’s decision to abandon their plans to bring enormous volumes of toxic coal ash into Wayne County’s Broadhurst Landfill.”
Dink NeSmith, president of Community Newspapers Inc. and owner of the Press-Sentinel in Jesup, has also been outspoken about the Wayne County plan, going so far as to get former U.S. President Jimmy Carter involved.
“There’s more work to be done, but Republic is listening,” NeSmith said. “I am grateful for them pulling the permit applications. Now, we can focus on what’s best for all.”