The calls keep coming: “Do you know about those long dump trucks coming out of South Carolina on I-85 South?”
Yes, I do.
Those special side-dumping big rigs are heading to 610 Frank Bennett Road in Banks County. Since 2015, the steady convoy has delivered millions of tons of toxic coal ash to be dumped in the R&B Landfill, owned and operated by Waste Management.
Waste Management is the industry’s biggest, with Republic Services Inc. coming in second. The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, has a sizable stake in both companies. There’s a fortune in handling what others don’t want. Some states have made the smart choice: “We don’t want the long-term risk of toxic coal ash polluting our environment.”
So who is the “lucky” sucker who gets to run that risk? Our state—good old Georgia, the one with lower tipping fees and looser environmental laws which roll out the welcome mat to Duke Energy and other massive coal-ash producers.
Yes, I had heard about those semis streaming across Lake Hartwell’s bridge into the Peach State. Saturday, I decided to take a look. Without a GPS, I had no trouble finding the Highway 51 turn-off on U.S. 441 North. A few miles down the road, another right turn put me on Frank Bennett Road. From the side of the narrow strip of asphalt, I craned my neck to see the earth-moving equipment atop the mountains of trash. So high up, the yellow crawlers looked like Tonka toys.
Banks County is in the foothills of Appalachia. The rolling terrain, with its lakes and streams, is a picturesque slice of natural beauty. Before the outlet-mall explosion—Banks Crossing—arrived on either side of I-85, Banks County was rural and considered poor. That typically means less educated, too. “Rural” and “poor” are two important magnets to attract mega landfills. Just as Republic did with the acquisition of Broadhurst, Waste Management acquired the small R&B Landfill and began adding acreage.
Before long, the Banks County commissioners were hooked on the “easy” landfill money, and that opened the door for what the Carolinas didn’t want. Sound familiar?
If you look at the websites of Waste Management and Republic Services Inc. or listen to their personnel, you’ll quickly read or hear: “We have state-of-the-art technology and exceed government regulations.” I don’t doubt those claims. What I doubt is if the regulations are stringent enough to protect us from poisonous coal ash forever. On my desk, I keep a piece of that “state-of-the-art” plastic which is to safeguard us—forever.
But back to those sleek semis—loaded with toxic coal ash—streaming in from the Carolinas. And don’t forget the 800,000 tons Florida’s Jacksonville Electric Authority has already dumped in Broadhurst. Seems our neighboring states outthought or outfoxed Georgia on protecting its citizens.