March 22, 2016

Gol-ly, Andy, Republic must think this is Mayberry

Pedaling my red Schwinn—with its fat whitewall tires—around Jesup in the mid-1950s, I could have been in Mayberry. Now, I know there was another world outside my often I’d-rather-be-barefoot days. But much like TV’s mythical Opie, my view of the world was limited by naïve, boyhood blinders. The closest I came to real-world exposure was sitting in Ralph Grantham’s chair inside the rare-to-me air-conditioned comfort of Jack’s Barber Shop on Cherry Street.
           Waiting to hear Jack Jackson, Herbert Dent or Ralph announce “next,” I listened, in childlike innocence, as men of my hometown swapped news and gossip. Most of it skimmed right over my buzz-cut head, as I was itching to climb back on my bike and explore the world that I knew. But I will never forget the day Ralph swabbed hot lather on the back of my neck and stropped his straight razor. From the moment I felt the touch of that sharp steel, I imagined that I was shedding my boyhood skin on the way to becoming a man.
           I cherish every one of those “Mayberry” memories that branded my profound sense of place—this place, Jesup and Wayne County. And as outsiders have tried to weaken my stance against toxic coal ash, I have not flinched, nor will I flinch. If a man cannot stand up for his family, his friends or his hometown, well, where can he stand?
          Republic Services and all the lobbyists in America can never convince me that our already fragile environment won’t be negatively impacted by the daily assault of 100 railcars of toxic waste. Last Wednesday night’s county-sponsored public meeting is proof that our community overwhelmingly feels the same. The auditorium of Coastal Pines Technical College was overflowing. And while emotions radiated white-hot outrage and surely-this-can’t-be-happening alarm, citizens—young and old—used exemplary manners to ask their questions and voice their concerns.
          I do not see how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can, with good conscience, give the go-ahead to Republic and its wetlands-destroying rail spur. Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division should probe deeper, while the Corps should have a separate hearing. There are just too many misrepresentations and unanswered questions.
          What Republic tried to do was quietly buy its way into Wayne County with hopes of making us a national dump of things others don’t want. Sure, it offered potential millions. However, the reward will never justify the risk. We don’t need to be the albino lab rat to see what happens when untold millions of tons of toxic coal ash is stored—forever—in our sensitive soil that leaks, just as those landfill liners will no doubt eventually leak, too.
          Wednesday night, Republic finally told Wayne County the truth: “We let you down.” No joke, but then came these lines. “Broadhurst Landfill is a remarkable landfill,” Russ Knocke, Republic’s spokesman, who lives 2,100 miles away in Phoenix, said. “It’s a breathtakingly beautiful site.”
Mr. Knocke and others in the Arizona ivory tower must have watched too many episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. They figured Wayne County was filled with gullible Goobers and goofball Gomers, down in our piney-woods corner of Southeast Georgia. As Republic’s representatives sat stone-faced on the college’s stage, you could tell the waste-management Goliath has been wrong in more ways than one.
          I wouldn’t take any amount of money for my boyhood memories, but our wants-to-pollute-us-more landfill operator needs to realize Wayne County isn’t Mayberry.
Sorry, Republic.
Surprise, surprise, surprise: Gomer and Goober don’t live here.