For two months, the small coal town northwest of Birmingham suffered the horrific odors and leaking pollution because a neighboring jurisdiction took a stand against the material passing through its community. It brought to light a relatively unknown pipeline of big-city waste from northern states being delivered to landfills in the rural South.
It was because of this Not-In-My-Backyard issue that Tennessee, in 1989, adopted a state law that allowed counties to have final say over the permitting of landfills within their boundaries, regardless of zoning. Local counties which sign onto the law have the power to reject a landfill within their jurisdiction by blocking the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation from processing the permit. It gives counties which adopt the law control over private entities obtaining state approval of a landfill without the county's knowledge.
About half of Tennessee counties have adopted the law, and Hawkins County is considering it. Among residents attending a meeting on the issue was Teresa Greer of Surgoinsville, who told county commissioners that she supports local adoption. "We all agree we need a place to put our household garbage. This affects ... anybody who might want to come in and make a landfill in the future. It just makes good sense that the County Commission has control over our community and what’s dumped here.”
It does indeed, and Hawkins should approve the resolution. But it should have some company in doing so.
According to the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, as of last year only Unicoi and Greene counties and the city of Greeneville were on the list of governments in Tennessee’s upper eight counties that were on board with Jackson’s law. Washington, Carter, Johnson, Sullivan and Hancock counties had not adopted the law.
Residents who live near Johnson City’s Iris Glen Environmental Center know all too well the impact a landfill can have on a community or neighborhood. Despite significant control measures, the seeping gases often leave the area smelling — well, like a poop train.
Landfills have to go somewhere, but the people affected should have a voice.