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Wilkes County Waste Disposal Complaint

1939 Newtown Road
Tignall, GA 30668

September 2, 2022

Mr. Jimmy Toto
Wilkes County Waste Ordinance Compliance Officer
23 Court Street
Washington, GA 30673
Re: Waste Disposal Complaint

Dear Mr. Toto:
This Complaint is filed against Wilkes County for allowing sludge to be dumped in violation of the County’s Waste Ordinance. Dumping waste in Wilkes County threatens the public health and welfare and should immediately be halted.
Protecting public health and safety is the County’s most important responsibility. The County is not meeting this responsibility when it comes to sludge dumping.  There are frequent, regular reports that sludge (and other waste) is being dumped in the County. Some of this material might be bona fide soil amendments, but some of it seems to be waste that does not comply with Georgia’s soil amendment laws and regulations.
This Complaint respectfully requests that the County immediately impose a moratorium on the dumping of all sludge and waste in the County. The moratorium should continue until Wilkes County takes the necessary steps to control sludge dumping on a longer-term basis. The moratorium could allow bona fide soil amendments to continue to be applied in Wilkes County; however, before the material is brought into the County, the landowner should be required
to demonstrate the material is a bona fide soil amendment by:

(a)  submitting documentation to the County showing that the material to be    applied meets all soil amendment rules;
(b)  submitting documentation to the County showing where, when, and how the soil amendment will be applied; and
(c)  submitting documentation to the County showing the material to be applied.

  1. Executive Summary

People throughout the County need clean water and land for themselves, their crops, and their animals.  This is especially true for agriculture, the largest industry in Wilkes County.
There are frequent reports that sludge and waste are being dumped in Wilkes County. The dumping generally is being done without the knowledge of County officials. The reports from the public complain about dangerous waste, putrid smells, flies, spills, water and land contamination, shoddy practices and suspicious circumstances. The June 16, 2022 fish kill on the Little River in Wilkes County shows that the dangers of sludge dumping are real, serious and occurring.
Most of the dumped sludge comes from industrial and commercial operations outside of Wilkes County. Much of the material seems to come from the Gainesville, GA area. Some of the material probably is a bona fide soil amendment allowed under Georgia law, but much of it seems just to be waste masquerading as “soil amendments.” There is no practical way for the County to know what is being dumped, where it is being dumped or whether the material is a bona fide soil amendment.
Sludge dumping is endangering Wilkes County agriculture, people, businesses, land values, and quality of life. The County needs to immediately stop all sludge dumping.  On a longer-term basis the County needs to address the overall issues through revised County waste and zoning ordinances, by working with the legislature and state agencies to better regulate waste and “soil amendments,” and through improved oversight, information gathering, and enforcement. 

  1. Wilkes County Must Regulate Waste Disposal
    Waste disposal is a highly controlled area. There are Federal and State laws and regulations, along with an ordinance in Wilkes County, to control and minimize the significant problems posed by waste.
    Georgia’s Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Act (Ga. Code 12-8-20) is a key statute applicable to waste. It is designed “to protect the public health, safety, and well-being of its citizens and to protect and enhance the quality of its environment….” Rules governing waste have been issued by the Georgia Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources. These and other laws and regulations define different types of waste, establish standards and requirements for waste treatment and disposal, contain administrative and other rules, and impose penalties and remedies for violations.
    Wilkes County’s Solid Waste Ordinance (Chapter 28) was enacted to promote “the general health and welfare of the county by providing for the proper, efficient, and sanitary disposal of waste.” Among other things, it provides:
    Waste must be disposed in compliance with State and County laws, rules and regulations [Sec. 28.5(a)]
    Waste must be either taken to the county landfill or placed in a collection container [Sec. 28.5(b)]
  • Waste may not be transported on county roads unless properly secured [Sec. 28.6(a)]
  • Waste generated outside Wilkes County may not be placed in collection containers or at the County Transfer Station [Sec. 28.6(c)]
  • Waste may not be deposited on public roads or on private property not belonging to the person doing the dumping [Sec. 28.6(d)]

In summary, Wilkes County’s waste ordinance prohibits waste from being dumped anywhere in the County except in containers (i.e., dumpsters) or at the landfill. The ordinance does not allow dumping of waste or sludge on private land. The one state-mandated exception is that bona fide soil amendments (i.e., waste which meets all soil amendment rules) may be applied to land, subject to various regulations.

  • Improper Waste Disposal Is Damaging Wilkes County
    Massive amounts of waste are generated every day, by every person and every business and organization. Safely disposing of waste is demanding and complicated, and improper waste disposal endangers public health and welfare. Huge sums are spent every year by governments on waste disposal, including to clean up waste that has been improperly discarded.

One recent incident in Wilkes County shows the danger when questionable material is brought into the County and improperly applied to the land. The Journal Messenger (based in Lincolnton) and Fox 5 News reported that the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a Notice of Violation for applying sludge at a Wilkes County farm. The sludge resulted in a sizable fish kill on June 16, 2022 on the Little River, a tributary of Clarks Hill Lake.  The DNR Notice of Violation directed the property owners to cease the placement of, and to remove, the offending materials.

The Little River fish kill shows that things can go terribly wrong with sludge and so-called “soil amendments.” That land and water can easily be polluted, with dire consequences for people, animals, aquatic life and crops. Will all the causes of the Little River fish kill ever be fully known?  Where else in Wilkes County might similar problems have occurred?  Did the violation stem from improperly sourced or produced material, improper application of the material, an improper location, other factors, or a combination of these factors? Even with the widely reported Little River fish kill, little information is available, including not knowing what is now being dumped in Wilkes County. There is no practical way to know if the material being dumped is a bona fide soil amendment or simply is waste masquerading as a soil amendment.

Especially troubling is that when it comes to so-called “soil amendments,” there is inadequate regulatory oversight, enforcement and control; suspicious, unprofessional and shoddy commercial practices; flaws and gaps in producing, testing, transporting, distributing, applying, labeling, and record-keeping relating to sludge and soil amendments.  The Georgia legislature and the Department of Agriculture need to promptly address these problems, but Wilkes County must immediately do what it can to protect the public health and welfare from sludge dumping.  

And unfortunately, when a problem arises with “soil amendments,” there is little accountability: The business which generated the waste blames the business which processed the waste, who in turn blames the person who distributed the waste, who in turn blames the person who applied the waste, who in turn blames the person who owns the land, who in turn claims the problem is someone else’s fault and they are innocent of all wrongdoing. In the meantime, the County and the public are left with dead fish, or poisoned cattle and chickens, or sick people, or contaminated land, or polluted streams, rivers, wells, and aquifers.

  1. Sludge Becomes a “Soil Amendment” Only If All Rules Are Followed 

Massive amounts of waste are produced every day and most of it is dangerous. There are many kinds of waste, including hazardous waste, commercial/industrial waste, biomedical waste, sewage sludge, household waste, and municipal solid waste. Municipal, industrial and commercial waste usually contains dangerous substances, is difficult (or impossible) to reuse, and must be extensively processed.
Some waste can be recycled and reused including glass, metal, plastic and paper. I collect horse manure at a friend’s house and use it in my vegetable garden. But most waste is is difficult and expensive to dispose of properly.
Georgia has chosen to allow certain types of waste to be used as “soil amendments” for agricultural purposes. Soil amendments are subject to laws and regulations addressing content, processing, distribution, application, labelling, record-keeping, and so on. But sludge and material being dumped in Wilkes County, while masquerading as soil amendments, do not meet the established requirements.  In other words, waste is being dumped in Wilkes County by being passed off as a “soil amendment.”
Georgia’s soil amendment laws essentially create a carve-out from the definition of waste. The rules allow certain waste to be converted into “soil amendments” to be used for agricultural purposes, subject to laws and regulations.  Soil amendments are primarily governed by Georgia Code 12-2-70 (“Soil Amendments”), Georgia Department of Agriculture Regulations 40-31-1, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources Regulations 391-3-6-.17.  The Georgia Department of Agriculture has primary responsibility for most matters involving soil amendments. Unfortunately, state-level enforcement of the soil amendment rules is weak, inconsistent and ineffective.

Georgia’s soil amendment laws and regulations:

  • Apply to persons throughout the entire process of creating soil amendments, including persons who: (a) create the waste, (b) acquire and process the waste, (c) distribute or transport the soil amendments, (d) apply the soil amendments, or (e) allow them to be applied to their property.
  • Establish rules about what types of waste can be used for soil amendments, what soil amendments may and may not contain, what soil amendments may be used for, how to distribute and transport soil amendments, how to apply soil amendments, how to label the soil amendments, and record-keeping requirements.

Wilkes County has limited control over soil amendments and generally is in the dark about what is happening with sludge and soil amendments entering the County. The County has no way of knowing if all the soil amendment rules were followed for material being applied (or dumped) in the County. Not surprisingly, there are increasingly frequent, highly concerning reports from people throughout Wilkes County about illegal sludge dumping. Is the material coming into in Wilkes County a bona fide soil amendment or is it just sludge being passed off as a soil amendment? It is not known where and when material is being dumped, what is being dumped, and who is doing the dumping. The Little River fish kill unequivocally shows that these kinds of unknowns negatively impact public health and welfare and create serious dangers throughout the County.

  1. Sludge Remains Waste Unless All Soil Amendment Rules Are Met

Georgia’s laws and regulations allow certain types of waste to be converted into “soil amendments” which may then be applied to the land for agricultural purposes. Specific requirements apply throughout the entire process of creating and using soil amendments, from collection, to processing, to labelling, to distribution, to application, and other areas.

In the case of the Little River fish kill, the offending material obviously did not meet all the requirements of a bona fide soil amendment. An investigation about what happened may still be ongoing, but the material applied to the soil did not qualify to be a soil amendment because it: (a) might have used improper waste; (b) might not have been properly processed; (c) might not have been properly labelled; (d) might not have been properly applied; (d) might have been applied in an unacceptable location; or (e) involved some combination of the foregoing or other problems. No one knows if other important rules—including transport, labelling and record-keeping requirements—had been followed for the offending material.

Georgia’s soil amendment regulations essentially create a special exception to state and local waste rules by allowing certain waste to be treated under the soil amendment rules and not the normal waste rules. But the soil amendment rules must be followed or the special exception does not apply; in such cases, the sludge (i.e., waste) remains waste and remains subject to the Wilkes County waste ordinance.

  1. Wilkes County Should Immediately Impose a Moratorium on Sludge Dumping

Wilkes County officials have expressed serious concern about sludge dumping (and soil amendments) but have taken little action so far. This may be because it is not possible to fully know what is happening and because the Georgia Department of Agriculture claims responsibility for adopting and enforcing “soil amendment” rules.

The Little River fish kill highlights the significant danger of dumping sludge. It also shows that corrective actions by the County are needed to prevent future problems. Because sludge is being passed off as a soil amendment and dumped in Wilkes County, I respectfully ask the County to:

  • Issue a moratorium on all sludge dumping in Wilkes County.
  • Require each person who plans to apply a soil amendment to show the County that the moratorium does not apply because they will use a bona fide soil amendment in accordance with the rules. Such information should contain at least the information required by the soil amendment rules, including:
    1. The original source(s) of all waste in the soil amendment and the nature of the original waste,
    2. Information about the soil amendment to be applied, such as the registration information, the person who registered the soil amendment, what is in the specific soil amendment, etc.
  • The person who will transport the soil amendment and that they will comply with all applicable rules,
  1. The person who will apply the soil amendment, their application system and plan, and that they will comply with all applicable rules, and
  2. The specific location where the soil amendment will be applied and the planned date of application.
  • Monitor the investigation of the Little River fish kill and urge that corrective action be taken and appropriate penalties assessed against all persons involved in the problem

Longer term actions are also needed involving sludge dumping and soil amendments. Thus, I also ask that once the sludge dumping moratorium is in place, the County should develop a plan to protect the public health and welfare, possibly including things such as:

  • Specifically prohibiting sludge dumping in the Waste Ordinance (i.e., waste may not be dumped unless it is a bona fide soil amendment)
  • Revising the Zoning Ordinance to add buffers, setbacks and other rules applicable to soil amendments (as specifically allowed in Sec. 2-12-80 of the Soil Amendment Law)
  • Developing a system to monitor, control and penalize sludge dumping
  • Developing a system to ensure the soil amendment rules are being followed before the material is brought into the County
  • Developing a system to ensure the County has better information about what, when and where soil amendments are being applied in the County
  • Working with other counties to improve the soil amendment laws and rules, along with better monitoring and enforcement of those rules

The relief requested in this Complaint addresses sludge dumping and has only minimal impacts on the use of bona fide soil amendments.  This balanced approach will halt sludge dumping, will not interfere with the use of bona fide soil amendments, and will better enable the County to protect public health and welfare.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Please contact me for additional information or if you have questions.

Respectfully submitted,

Douglas L. Abramson

 

 

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