Effingham Co. seeks to clear up confusion surrounding potential landfill

Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 3:58 PM EDT
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EFFINGHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - A piece of property in the northern part of Effingham County is now at the center of a heated debate.

On one side, residents and environmentalists who claim the county is trying to change an ordinance to sneak a landfill into an agriculturally zoned property

On the other side, the county, who says they aren’t hiding anything, and the ordinance is actually meant to help nearby property owners.

“We purchase property in rural areas to get away from the noise, pollution, the sounds and smells of more urban areas,” said Effingham resident Lexye Shockley.

But over the weekend, Shockley caught wind of something that might be a threat to this rural way of life.

“Allowing a landfill in an agricultural area substantially diminishes that quality of life.”

The landfill would be less than a mile from her home off Georgia Highway 17 in Egypt. A location that the Ogeechee Riverkeepers say would do much more than threaten a way of life.

“There’s lots of concerns we have about a large industrial regional landfill placed so close to the river,” said Ogeechee Riverkeeper executive director Damon Mullis.

But residents are worried a potential ordinance change could make it more likely.

“The board of commissioners will be evaluating some zoning changes,” said Mullis.

The change would allow things like cell towers, solar farms and yes, landfills, to be built on agriculturally zoned land.

But as for the argument that it will make it an easier process, Effingham County Manger Tim Callanan says, “it’s a hundred percent incorrect.”

In fact, Callanan says with the change, whether you filed agricultural or industrial, “the conditions are identical.”

Meaning they’d still go through the planning board, public hearing and two readings before the board before a vote. So, why make the change?

“The only reason we did this was to provide better protection for the property owners surrounding it,” said Callanan.

He says this would allow the board to better take into consideration feedback from the public and even if they approve it, they could add conditions and restrictions, something they wouldn’t be able to do if zoned industrial.

Another way Callanan thinks this could protect residents, “industrial zoning can be considered a contagion.”

In other words, if one property gets zoned industrial in the middle of a rural area it could make it easier for more to follow.

So, by switching the zoning for things like landfills or dirt mines to agricultural it could keep other industries out.

However, Shockley and Mullis fear it may do the opposite, making it easier for landfills to get dropped into rural areas.

While the two sides don’t see eye-to-eye on much, they do agree on one thing.

“I would just ask that residents from all over the county contact their representative on the board of commissioners,” said Shockley.

“I encourage folks to call the county and ask questions about it,” added Callanan.

Update on Tuesday, April 20: The six proposed ordinance amendments associated with surface mining and waste disposal sites have been moved from the current agenda and will now be heard during the May 18 Effingham County Board of Commissioners meeting. According to the county, a designated time allotment will be provided for a public hearing to hear public input as well as the first reading of the proposed changes.

As for the landfill, Callanan says that likely won’t even be brought to the planning and zoning committee until June, but they will notify the public beforehand.

To contact Effingham County, click here.

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