Published on AL.com on March 2, 2016
By Ron Miller, Chair, Perry County Commission
In recent years, a continuous stream of half truths and outright falsehoods concerning Arrowhead Landfill and its disposal of coal ash have been allowed to perpetuate, thanks to the questionable efforts of certain opposition groups, most notably Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice. These charges, which continue to this day, have too often and for too long gone unchallenged in both local and national media. It is time to dispel these myths and set the record straight once and for all.
As a lifelong resident and former councilmember of Uniontown and chair of the Perry County Commission, I feel uniquely qualified to do just that. But perhaps nothing makes me more of an authority on this issue than the fact that I live just over one-half mile east of Arrowhead Landfill and neither I nor my family have ever experienced any sort of adverse effects.
Of course, if groups like Black Belt are to be believed, Arrowhead is a shoddily constructed facility operated by people with no regard for the health and well-being of the local community. Let me assure you, that is pure fantasy.
This is not some uninformed opinion. I say this because in my elected positions of city councilman and county commissioner, I have had closer contact with the landfill and its management and ownership than most people in the community. I attended meetings in which the design and operation of the landfill were discussed extensively. I was briefed at length on safeguards put into place – including groundwater, surface water and air monitoring programs – during the 2009-2010 timeframe when coal ash was accepted at the landfill.
The truth is, Arrowhead Landfill is one of the safest facilities of its kind anywhere in the country, with multiple layers of groundwater protection, a groundwater monitoring system, and an extensive drainage system that removes rainwater and liquid from the waste 24-hours a day. But what makes it ideally suited for the disposal of coal ash is its location over the Selma Chalk Foundation, one of the most impermeable naturally occurring clay formations in North America, which forms a natural barrier between the landfill waste and the underlying aquifer. It would take literally hundreds, if not thousands, of years for water to pass through this chalk.
But such facts do not stop groups like Black Belt from needlessly alarming local residents with scary but false claims of coal ash polluting our community’s air and water. No proof or third party evidence supporting these allegations is ever offered up, of course. Not surprisingly, their claims are easily debunked. Regular inspections by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management confirm that no coal ash is escaping Arrowhead Landfill. Detailed reports are publicly available on the ADEM website for anyone to see.
In two of its more brazen examples of dishonesty, Black Belt has suggested that the landfill lacks a cover (it does not) and that one of the layers of an EPA-required liner is missing (it is not). Not only is Arrowhead Landfill in full compliance with both the EPA and ADEM, it has never been cited for a single violation from either, despite it being the most inspected landfill in Alabama.
In regards to Green Group Holdings, I can say that having interacted with all previous owners and operators of Arrowhead Landfill, they are easily the most open and community-minded. Immediately upon taking ownership in December 2011, Green Group made an effort to introduce themselves and solicit ideas for how they could best be involved in the community. This led to the creation of a community involvement group with whom they discussed and prioritized needs within the community. As a result, proactive steps were taken such as relocating the main entrance to the landfill for the convenience and safety of neighbors, improving local parks, and helping to restore an historic church cemetery, to name a few.
I have not even touched on the economic benefits of Arrowhead Landfill to Uniontown and Perry County in the form of jobs, millions of dollars in host fees, and savings due to free garbage disposal at the landfill.
Concerns over a landfill are understandable and valid, and everyone should take an active interest in the environmental well-being of his or her community. But when groups like Black Belt so blatantly promote falsehoods to further their agenda, and make allegations that are so easily disproven, they lose all credibility and should be judged accordingly: with extreme skepticism.