August 16, 2017

We can’t let Pogo be our landfill prophet

     Back when I was squirming in those rock-hard desks at Orange Street Elementary School, my teachers didn’t know about attention deficit disorder (ADD.)  Mildred Jones, Gussie Richardson and Sara James simply declared, “Son, you have ants in your pants!”
     Those wonderful ladies are gone, but my inability to sit still is very much alive.  And if anything squirms more than my bottom, it is my brain.  In this landfill controversy, the “ants” have crawled from my pants into my brain.
     Somewhere, somehow, there has to be an acceptable resolve for Republic Services and the citizens of Wayne County.  The Broadhurst Environmental Landfill, like it or not, is here to stay.  Your newspaper has been here since 1865.  The Press-Sentinel isn’t going anywhere either.  I am confident that tens of thousands of you feel the same way.  No one, not even a multibillion-dollar behemoth, can snatch up our roots, our love, or our loyalty to this place we call Wayne County.
     Over the last week, I have had multiple telephone conversations and face-to-face visits with people on both sides of this brouhaha.  Sunday afternoon, as I was driving, I was rolling around all the comments I had heard.  Out of nowhere, a Simon and Garfunkel tune popped into my head.  I began humming “Mrs. Robinson,” and then I got to “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?” in the 1968 lyrics.    
     Now, what does a New York Yankees legend have to do with a wetlands-destroying rail spur and millions of tons of toxic coal ash?  Absolutely nothing.  I’ve already told you about the incessant whirring of my brain, and that explains how my thinking jumped tracks to Henry Kissinger.
     Yes, the former United States secretary of state and national security advisor back in the era of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.  Kissinger’s keen mind and negotiating skills won him a Nobel Prize.  At 94, he’s probably not interested in hopping on Amtrak to Jesup for a peace-talks summit.  However, that’s the kind of facilitator we need—now—to pull together a forum to explore the right steps to a win-win resolution.
     When Republic presented its latest proposal on July 20, the waste-management company thought it was providing a way to erase the community’s angst about toxic coal ash—forever.  Republic called it a “good neighbor” plan.  For the most part, it has been perceived as anything but a good neighbor gesture. Now, we have Goliath frustrated and digging in his heels.  To compound matters, the county and our three municipalities can’t seem to agree.
     This is what I think.  Negotiations have to start somewhere.  Republic’s first draft is exactly that—a first draft.  But before our officials start negotiations, something else needs to happen.   The people of Wayne County—elected and otherwise—need to decide what we are willing to accept.  There should be a series of town-hall meetings with county, Jesup, Odum, and Screven officials, along with Solid Waste Authority members and the taxpaying citizens of Wayne County.
     We must identify the things most important to us in the upcoming negotiations.  If Henry Kissinger were here, he would tell us, “You must be united, or you will not be successful.”  We must not let positive dialogue collapse while we squabble among ourselves. 
     Oops, my mind has jumped again.  
     This time, I’m in the Okefenokee Swamp.
     Walt Kelly’s cartoon possum explains exactly what we must avoid. 
     Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
     No, no. 
     We can’t have that happen here!