Originally created 10/06/99

Landfill fire cost estimated

THOMSON -- Extinguishing an underground fire at a defunct McDuffie County landfill will cost about $665,000, according to Georgia's Environmental Protection Division.

"That's just an estimate at this point, and a rough estimate at that," said EPD Communications Director Vince Dollard.

EPD and state contractors began fighting the fire at the abandoned Williams-Mesena Landfill on Sept. 13 -- four days after it began. No cause has been determined.

EPD and its contractors were joined by Summit Environmental, an Indiana company hired by former operators and patrons of the site. Summit, which specializes in underground chemical fires, remains at the scene.

Although the blaze was under control last week, a weekend flyover with infrared cameras detected at least 32 "hot spots" within the 122-acre landfill, Mr. Dollard said.

"It's not active burning, but just smoldering," he said. "Those areas have been pinpointed with GPS (global positioning satellite), and the contractors will dig them up and put them out."

The site's owner, Mark Gates, disappeared shortly after EPD closed his landfill in 1991 for environmental violations. Since then, EPD has been working to identify "responsible parties" with ties to the site.

Before the fire broke out, EPD was negotiating with 10 such parties to pay for an evaluation to stabilize and close the defunct landfill, which contains hundreds of tons of industrial and medical waste.

Now those four businessman and six companies -- Boone A. Knox, J. Douglas Pentecost, William B. Swan, Jerry D. Williams, Uniroyal, Georgia Iron Works, Johnson Controls, Hoover Treated Wood Products, Lehr Automotive and Temple Inland Forest Products -- must share in the firefighting costs.

"These people are going above and beyond the call to do something out there," said Robert Mullins, a Savannah environmental attorney representing the group.

At least 20 other parties identified by the state refused to participate in a cleanup, he said.

It has not been determined how much of the $665,000 tab the responsible parties will be asked to pay for.

"This was definitely a big cost that came up that we didn't expect," Mr. Mullins said. "We were all hoping to be spending the money on investigating the site, instead of putting out a fire."

Additional work will be needed after the fire is out, Mr. Dollard said.

"How we move from here, we don't know. It could involve capping; it could involve digging it up; it could involve well monitoring. We simply don't know at this point which route we're going to take yet."

Although air monitoring indicated no dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals leaving the site boundaries during the fire, EPD has been trying to keep area residents informed. EPD met with neighbors Tuesday to update them on the activities.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222.


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