Wayne County has produced a legion of memorable characters. One of my favorites was our former next-door neighbor Leroy Strickland. The businessman could “hold court” with the best of them. Whether he was tending his tiny patch of tomatoes or pontificating from the bench at Lucky’s Service Station, Leroy was always good for funny one-liners.
One day, I plopped down beside him at Lucky’s. Waving his hand, he pointed to his three sons. Wayne was grinding a block of ice. Mike was laboring over a Mercury outboard. Thomas was cleaning love bugs off a lady’s windshield. Chuckling, he said, “I don’t know what the world’s coming to. You can’t even raise good help these days.” That was Leroy, quick to rib whomever to get a laugh.
Leroy was also an innovator. Long before the 24-hours-a-day-convenience-store era, Leroy and his sons opened the Jiffy Market in the old ice house on Cherry Street. It’s been a half-century, but I can still see the store’s motto: “We may doze, but we never close.”
Today, that motto lives in our fight to keep Republic Services from hauling mountains of toxic coal ash into its Broadhurst Environmental Landfill. Perhaps our county’s leadership was asleep when the 2005 contract was amended, opening the door to our present crisis. But be assured, everyone is wide awake in 2016. If we do not rattle the earth with public outcry and look for chinks in the legal armor of this landfill giant, Wayne County’s environment is in grave danger. And when the predictable calamity happens, the health of future generations will suffer—forever.
That’s why we cannot afford to go to deep sleep or close our defense.
And now, Wayne County’s fight has gotten three big boosts. Two Glynn County nonprofits have joined the campaign to protect Southeast Georgia. Environmental groups—Center for a Sustainable Coast and 100 Miles—recognize whatever pollutes our community’s natural resources will contaminate the coast, too. The plumber’s rule reigns: “Stuff runs downhill.” The Golden Isles are downhill from Penholloway Creek, which empties into the Altamaha River. The Altamaha and Satilla rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean.
Another major lift is from an anonymous benefactor who has pledged a 2-to-1 challenge to match all donations to our legal defense fund. If a third-grader shakes five bucks from his or her piggy bank, that gift becomes $15. One thousand dollars grows to $3,000. This David-and-Goliath battle is going to be long and expensive, but our cause is gaining traction and significant financial support. Republic figures it has our commissioners handcuffed with its 50-year, lopsided contract. That should make us even more determined to right this wrong.
If you have family or friends in Pierce, Long, McIntosh, Glynn, Brantley, Ware or Camden counties, you need to reach out to them. If Republic gets its wishes, our neighbors will be at risk. North Florida, are you paying attention, too? Atlanta should be livid that its coastal playground is under assault. Media across America are waking up: “If this can happen in Wayne County, it can happen in Anywhere, USA.”
Rural, cash-strapped communities, such as ours, are prime targets of waste-management companies that use money to buy dumping rights. Republic baited the hook with cash for the county, and some Wayne County leaders bit—hook, line and sinker. Now, it’s up to citizens—like an angry large-mouth bass—to shake our heads and spit out the nasty lure.
Doing that won’t be easy, but we can and we will. That’s why Leroy’s words are important: “We may doze, but we never close” in our fight against toxic coal ash.