Bill offers potential to block coal ash landfill near southeast Georgia river

    A bill proposes to ban landfills - including coal ash dumps - within three miles of the Satilla River in south Georgia. Photo by TimothyJ via Flickr.

    Lawmakers are trying to stop landfills – including coal ash dumps – from popping up near a south Georgia river.

    State legislation proposes to ban landfills within a three-mile range of the Satilla River, which is a blackwater stream that flows about 200 miles to St. Andrews Sound at Jekyll Island and into the Atlantic Ocean.

    “Georgia is truly a unique state and very diverse in many different ways, and one of those ways is with our natural resources,” said Rep. Steven Meeks, a Screven Republican.

    Lawmakers and environmentalists say a landfill near such a natural resource – in this case, specifically the Satilla River – would cause more flooding and threaten local drinking wells with contaminants.

    Behind the bill is a proposed 230-acre landfill near the river in Brantley County that local officials and residents are trying to halt. There’s a similar bill in the Senate backed by high-ranking Republicans there that is currently in the Senate Rules Committee.

    The House version, HB 1062, received a hearing in a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee Wednesday, but no vote was taken.

    Meeks said after the meeting that toxic coal ash may not be in mind for the proposed landfill but said it was specifically addressed in the bill because of the heightened concerns over coal ash dumping in Georgia.

    But some lawmakers question why this protection should be limited to just the Satilla River.

    “We have landfills or even coal ash ponds that are close to other rivers,” said Rep. Angelika Kausche, a Johns Creek Democrat. “So, is there a reason we just limited this bill to a specific area? Wouldn’t it make sense then for all waterways?”

    Meeks responded that he didn’t want to impact other areas of the state, but he acknowledged that the bill could be used as a precedent for other Georgia rivers. The measure would not, however, apply to existing or already permitted landfills.

    “I would also offer that there is more than one river that’s impacted by this particular process that you’re trying to prevent in your area that also needs to be addressed,” said Rep. Karla Drenner, an Avondale Estates Democrat.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.