Members of Living Word Christian Center were caught off guard by an Augusta Commission decision to allow an inert landfill beside their church, an assistant pastor said Wednesday.
The Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission voted 10 days ago to deny a request by property owner Wyman Simmons for a special exception to operate a wood-mulching operation and inert landfill at the sand-quarry pit off Old McDuffie Road west of Bobby Jones Expressway.
The only things that can go into an inert landfill are construction debris, broken concrete and asphalt, officials said.
With that decision, church members who had opposed the request thought they had won and did not attend Tuesday's commission meeting to voice opposition, said Walter Cannon, pastor of administration at the church.
"We had assumed because the planning commission had denied it, it was not going to be approved," Mr. Cannon said.
But it was, on a 6-2 vote with Commissioners Moses Todd and Stephen Shepard abstaining.
Commissioners Henry Brigham and Willie Mays voted against the request.
Joe Rabun, owner of Augusta Green Wood & Mulch, who will be in charge of the operation, showed up at Tuesday's city commission meeting prepared to persuade.
Mr. Rabun, who had his troubles with the state Environmental Protection Division after 20,000 tires in a tire dump he owned in Stapleton, Ga., caught fire in 1992, came armed with a petition signed by most of the property owners in the area who want the sand-quarry pit filled in.
One of the signers said Wednesday he was opposed at first and especially concerned about the dust, but Mr. Rabun persuaded him during the course of three visits.
"What I heard was the rest of them around me signed it," said Eugene Johnikin. "I hated to be the oddball, but I had my doubts about it at that time. I really did. He had to make three trips over here for me."
Mr. Rabun assured commissioners Tuesday that if atmospheric low pressure caused too much pollution or noise, he would turn the grinder off if residents objected.
Mr. Rabun also brought Mr. Simmons' lawyer, Charles LeGette Jr., and New McDuffie Road resident Nancy Moore to speak for the mulching operation and landfill.
Mrs. Moore called it the best alternative for filling in the unsightly quarry pit.
Even Planning Commission Executive Director George Patty acknowledged something needs to be done about the pit and said an inert landfill would fill the bill.
Mr. Todd warned that putting a landfill that close to Bobby Jones Expressway was "not good business" because of potential fires. He also questioned Mr. Rabun about his "record with the EPD," which had come up at the planning commission.
Mr. Rabun said he had a tire disposal business in 1992 that caught fire.
"I was not fined," he said. "We don't know what happened."
Folks around Stapleton called smoke from the fire a black tornado.
At the time, a Jefferson County Health Department environmentalist said the EPD in Macon had told Mr. Rabun he needed to reduce the number of tires in his lot.
Fire, heavy-duty trucks, noise and pollution are also concerns of church members, said Mr. Cannon.
"With inert landfills, there can be underground fires and methane gas," he said. "Columbia County had one, and it had an underground fire."
Mr. Cannon asked, "Who's going to monitor all the waste material that's coming through there? Normally, nobody notices until there's a problem."
In other action at Tuesday's meeting, Augusta commissioners:
Also included was a request from businessman Ron Brown to abate a $100,000 loan over a three-year period in exchange for the Ronlyn Corp. hiring five more people. If the commission grants the request, it will be the second $100,000 loan it has not required Mr. Brown to repay.
In addition, businessman Harvey Johnson has requested a $325,000 loan from Urban Development Action Grant funds for Apex Food Service, which operates Church's Fried Chicken stores in Augusta and Aiken.
Commissioner Ulmer Bridges said the board would be setting a bad precedent by donating the money, because other schools would be seeking donations.