October 12, 2016

Wasn’t Hurricane Matthew a ‘2-by-4’ between the ears?

     Before tractors plowed fields, farmers mostly depended on mules.  If a stubborn animal balked, it was apt to get a 2-by-4 whack between the ears.  The man behind the plow would say, “I had to get old Red’s attention.” 
     Republic Services has been mule-headed stubborn about its intention to turn Wayne County into perhaps the largest deposit of toxic coal ash in America.   The Phoenix-based company’s attitude has been: “Relax.  We know what we are doing.”
     No, we cannot relax. 
     Long before this hurricane season, we knew Coastal Georgia was the worst possible place to take the environmental risks that the nation’s second-largest waste hauler is proposing for our community.  Why is Republic so determined?  The answer is one word: money.
     I understand pressure on Republic to crank out mountains of bottom-line money while building mountains of trash—including toxic coal ash—in its landfill.  Unfortunately, too many Wall Street corporations employ these three rules:
     1.  Make money.
     2.  Use that money to make more money.
     3.  Never forget the first two rules.
     There’s nothing wrong with profit motives, unless sheer greed is the driving force.  Straight out of Republic’s mouth: “We estimate $450 million in revenue from coal ash taken to Broadhurst, which will yield $45 million in profits.”  So, there you have it.  Republic must value the $45 million in profits more than the safety of Coastal Georgia’s people and our natural resources.
     My seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Nanelle Bacon, teased our children: “Your daddy almost flunked math because he couldn’t do decimals.  Then, I told him to put a dollar mark in front.  He never missed another problem.”  Tim Cockfield and C.W. Collins didn’t have as much luck explaining algebra or geometry to me.
     Still, I can do this decimal-driven math.  If Republic is estimating $28.00 per ton for accepting toxic coal ash—mostly from utility companies—that means 16.071 million additional tons to be stacked, over four years, at the proposed daily rate of 10,000 tons.  Earlier, the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) had sent 800,000 tons to the Broadhurst Environmental Landfill.  From that JEA waste, dangerous beryllium has already leaked or spilled.  Toxic heavy-metal pollution lasts an eternity.
     Mrs. Bacon was right.  I wasn’t the sharpest pencil in her math class.  But Saturday night, during the Class of 1966’s 50th reunion, I visited with plenty of people who are smarter than me. Hurricane Matthew robbed our electricity, but former Yellow Jacket teammates Kenny Bryant, Larry Brannen and Marcus Waters hustled to find a way to light Pine Forest Country Club’s banquet hall.
     While gas-fired generators hummed on the pool deck, Patty Barr Sutker echoed what I’ve been preaching since before Hurricane Hermine breezed through.  How many warning shots does Mother Nature have to fire over Coastal Georgia’s bow before Republic gets the message that our low-lying, high-water-table environment is the wrong place to dump coal ash or any other toxic wastes?  Patty agrees that all of this makes no sense.
     I have been mule-headed about Republic’s plan, but with good reason—common sense.  Millions of tons of toxic coal ash are a threat to our watery world which drains into the ultra-sensitive coast.  Matthew’s blow was sledgehammer-hard, but what if he had been Hurricane Katrina’s twin?  That threat renews with every future hurricane or tornado. 
     Republic owns landfills—served by rail spurs—outside hurricane and prevalent-flooding zones. Broadhurst doesn’t have to be the only place to boost its Wall Street-reported profits with toxic coal ash.  If Hurricane Matthew wasn’t the right 2-by-4 to get Republic’s attention, what will it take for the dump’s owner to use common sense?