The Altamaha River has been identified by the Nature Conservancy as one of
“America’s Last Great Places.”
It’s the third largest river flowing from the Eastern Seaboard, and it drains a quarter of the state of Georgia. It is noted for a broad floodplain, and for the amazing diversity along its length, with 120 rare or endangered species associated with this globally important basin. The Altamaha River supports the largest concentration of rare species of any river in Georgia.
The Nature Conservancy has been working in the watershed for four decades on a landscape-scale protection project, a bio-reserve. To date, it has created a 42-mile contiguous corridor of preservation lands, more than 100,000 acres total under protection.
According to Dr. Todd Rasmussen, Ph.D, Professor of Hydrology and Water Resources, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at University of Georgia, dumping coal ash in Wayne County, Georgia is a bad idea.
The area is a regional depression, with primarily a vertical gradient. The clays in the soil pick up toxic material.
The Broadhurst Landfill, located in Wayne County, Georgia, is in the coastal plains — is a flat landscape.
It has been found that southeastern landfills fail much more readily than those in drier, colder climates, and the highly porous soils of the pine barrens spell trouble for containment.
Coal ash, Dr. Rasmussen points out, is radioactive, just like nuclear waste. Nuclear waste lasts 10,000 years. Republic Services will monitor Broadhurst for…30 years.
In his research document, Hydrologic Connectivity of Isolated Wetlands, Dr. Rasmussen concludes that even small wetlands at large distances from the coast are part of the coastal hydrologic continuum. Infiltrating the Broadhurst Environmental Landfill with coal ash should, therefore, set off regional alarms.
Take a trip with us down the Altamaha River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service traveled the river from Jesup in Southeast Georgia to the barrier islands where the free-flowing Altamaha empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
Banner video of the Altamaha River by Nicole Vidal, USFWS.
Broadhurst Environmental Landfill
The Broadhurst Environmental Landfill is a lined Subtitle D landfill which is permitted to take non-hazardous waste. The problem is coal ash has been designated non-hazardous by the EPA even though the EPA admits it has toxic constituents.
Although lined landfills are safer than unlined ones, the liners are not proven to be impervious over time. Using heat to seal seams may weaken the polyethylene. No one knows how long the bottom liners, exposed to so many corrosive chemicals, will stand up over the years they are supposed to endure.
David Kyler, Executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, puts it most succinctly in a letter to Army Corps of Engineers:
“Clearly, there are much better-suited locations for this operation that would not impose unjustified harm to jurisdictional freshwater wetlands. The toxicity of the material being transported further exacerbates the potential risk to public interest. There is no compelling rationale that substantiates the stated need to fill nearly 25 acres of jurisdictional wetlands.” READ THE LETTER
History of the Controversy at Broadhurst Landfill
“Republic Services’ proposal to take more wetlands in Wayne County to build a rail yard to haul in 100 train cars of coal ash or perhaps other industrial wastes has riled the people of our community more than any issue that I have seen in my lifetime,” said Edna Ruth Williamson, a civic leader and lifelong resident of Jesup, Georgia.
In December 2015, Republic Services, owner of the Broadhurst Landfill and the second largest landfill business in the nation, used a subsidiary’s name to apply for a permit to build a rail spur that would stretch from Broadhurst Road south along the track all the way to McKinnon.
In January 2016 this plan was uncovered by journalists who notified the public. When citizens learned that the application for a permit from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to take approximately 25 acres of wetlands to build the rail spur stated that the purpose was to bring in 10,000 tons of coal ash per day, many were alarmed. Further investigation revealed that Broadhurst Landfill had already taken in approximately 800,000 tons of coal ash from Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) between 2006 and 2014, and in 2011 there was a leak that resulted in toxic heavy metals found in coal ash measuring above Groundwater Protections Standards. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) was aware of the leakage, yet neither Republic nor the EPD reported it to the citizens. According to The Press-Sentinel, as of October 2017 the groundwater was still contaminated despite years of clean up by Republic.
Citizens of Wayne County and Southeast/Coastal Georgia expressed outrage at several public meeting. Many voiced indignation at being uninformed about both the huge deposit of coal ash and the resulting leak and raised strong opposition to plans for bringing in more toxic material. No Ash At All, a grassroots organization, was formed to fight Republic’s plan and to protect wetlands, rivers, and the Georgia coast. Thousands of comments were sent to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in opposition to the rail spur permit. In April, 2017, Republic Services withdrew all applications for permits related to the rail spur and coal ash; however, they did so with the understanding that they may reapply. As yet, they have not given any assurance in writing that they will never bring in coal ash to Broadhurst.
The Section 404 permit for activities in wetlands from the Army Corps of Engineers specifically states that the purpose of the railroad yard is to receive coal combustion (CCR) waste material, commonly called coal ash.
What people don’t know is that Republic cannot receive coal ash at Broadhurst even if Republic gets a Section 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. Section 16-56(e) of the Wayne County Ordinances, adopted in October 2000, prohibits receiving toxic waste (such coal ash) in the wetlands. Federal law permits local environmental protection laws — like Section 16-56(e) — to provide more stringent environmental protection than the federal law requires.
Republic has already taken in as much as 800,000 tons of coal ash from Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) between 2006 and 2014, and toxic heavy metals found in coal ash have been detected at levels above drinkingwater standards in local groundwater around Republic Services’ Broadhurst Environmental Landfill. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) was aware of the leakage, yet no local officials or agencies were aware of the problem, nor did any local agencies receive notification of it.