Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Savannah Morning News on coal ash in Southeast Georgia:
People living downstream from a massive landfill near Jesup have good reason to worry about the nearly 1 million tons of coal ash dumped there. Likewise, they have a great reason to block a project that would bring in tons more.
Left over from coal burned in electrical plants, coal ash contains radioactive material and carcinogenic heavy metals like arsenic and mercury. This is bad stuff, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declined to call it hazardous.
So, naturally, residents living near the Broadhurst Environmental Landfill fear contamination of nearby wetlands and streams, which could carry the toxins for miles around. The mammoth Floridan aquifer lies below ground and furnishes Savannah and Brunswick with drinking water.
Not surprisingly, many experts are concerned.
"People are scrambling to figure out what to do with this," said Todd Rasmussen, a respected University of Georgia hydrologist. "We're waiting for a Katrina to happen in terms of the environmental blowup."
Steps must be taken to reduce the risk of a Katrina-type catastrophe.
With all that water around and below that landfill — and others in coastal Georgia — leaks are a real concern. Just this year residents near the Broadhurst site learned that the landfill did, in fact, leak five years ago. State environmental officials say no coal ash seeped into any of the nearby waterways. Clay and fused layers of heavy plastic line the landfill as regulations rightly require.
Called Mount Trashmore locally and occupying an area the size of Savannah's Ardsley Park neighborhood, the Broadhurst dump takes household garbage as well as industrial waste. And now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering an application from a South Carolina company to fill in 25 acres of adjoining wetlands for a rail spur to accommodate some 100 rail cars, plus related structures. Coal ash and household solid waste would be brought in by rail, transferred to dump trucks and then unloaded into the landfill, according to a report in the Blackshear Times. To offset the loss of protected wetlands, the company, Central Virginia Properties of Spartanburg, would buy wetland mitigation credits from the Wilkinson-Oconee Wetland Mitigation Bank. (That's a 6,700-acre swath of land stretching from Macon to Brunswick being restored to its natural state. Water from that area was previously diverted for farming and timber harvesting.)
In Savannah, the Superior Landfill operated by Waste Management has about 100,000 tons of coal ash from Georgia Power's Plant Kraft. Near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the Chesser Island Landfill in Folkston is scheduled to receive about 500,000 tons that have been stored at the power company's Plant McManus. Another 317,000 tons from an ash pond at Georgia Power's Plant McIntosh in Rincon is headed for a landfill there.
It's reassuring that Georgia Power is scheduled to stop receiving coal ash at all 29 of its coal ash ponds within the next three years. Even better, at 16 of its coal ash ponds next to lakes or rivers, the company will remove the ash and either dispose of it in a lined landfill or recycle it in uses such as concrete or cinder blocks. Repurposing the ash may be the ultimate solution.
What's not so comforting is that so many of these dumps were sited in coastal Georgia, where the soil is sandy, the clay is porous, and marshes and rivers and streams are never far away. In addition, municipal solid landfills don't have to do anything special to accept coal ash. For example, they can be sited above the Floridan aquifer and can be surrounded by neighborhoods or wetlands.
These sites are monitored. But given the possibility of carcinogenic leaks, residents and environmental groups are right to demand more frequent testing in more locations, along with better sitings of landfills that pose less risk to the environment.
The Newnan Times-Herald on the state's budgeting process:
August is a key month for taxpayers because it's when the state government starts its budgeting process and when local governments wind up theirs.
The heads of state agencies are facing a directive from Gov. Nathan Deal to draft their spending plans without increases. That's despite the fact that state revenues have steadily risen since the last budgeting period.
Much of the extra money is to go into the state's reserves to augment the cushion for the next recession, whenever that may come. Without a healthy reserve fund, governments are faced with the prospect of raising taxes in the middle of a recession to cover expenses that can't be cut, like social services to the expanding pool of laid-off workers and those with diminished incomes. The irony is that the number of people needing government assistance rises at exactly the same moment that taxpayers can least afford a tax hike.
Level-headed budgeting in the good years avoids rash decisions in the troubled years.
Deal is to be commended for holding the reins on state government. He has often said that the job of overseeing the budget doesn't get easier when the economy improves. Instead, the challenge merely shifts from making cuts in lean times to preventing explosive growth in flush times because every agency has a wish list.
"Gov. Deal will maintain a conservative fiscal-management budget strategy in order to plan for any economic contingencies by asking agencies to maintain FY 2017 spending levels for agency programs," wrote Teresa MacCartney, the governor's budget director, in a memo to department heads.
The governor's prudence is a model for local officials. Nearly every local government in Coweta County is considering a tax increase to cover added spending — including Senoia's city council that has already overspent its budget in the current year by about half. And several of the proposed local budgets actually intend to reduce their own reserves rather than building them up during this economic phase.
The common technique being considered this year here is what's known as backdoor tax increases. That's where the prior year's property tax rate is continued, but because it is applied to higher property values, the result is increased revenue.
In the ongoing public hearings that each local government must conduct under state law regarding backdoor increases, staffers get to explain their reasons for recommending the spending blueprint they've put before the elected officials. Citizens can use those hearings to ask questions so they can better understand the situation.
Of course, the main reason for the hearings is to hear from citizens. They give the elected folks the chance to hear from their bosses.
Anyone concerned about government spending should attend, ask questions and speak up. After all, the free-spending habits of Congress was a major issue for all the candidates in the Republican congressional primary that just concluded here. Certainly, the budget plans of local government is just as important as the federal government's.
Deal isn't halting all growth in spending. He intends to pour more resources into public education and also enhance the wages of state law-enforcement officers to reduce turnover. Polls show broad public support for those priorities.
The same could be true on the local level. That is to say, the public may agree with some increases if a convincing case is made.
Just to be sure, please participate in the poll posted on the times-herald.com website. We'll publish the results in a few days for the public — and our public officials — to see.
Nevertheless, we're confident that the public joins us in saying that the governor's tightfisted approach to spending makes a reasonable pattern for others to emulate.
The Telegraph of Macon on the Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource Center:
It's not very often a community, an area, a city, a state can say that it has a facility that is like none other in the world. That's what came out time and again Tuesday morning at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first of its kind $10 million Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource Center (VECTR).
It is a true partnership between the Georgia General Assembly that provided the money and the ongoing financial support; the University System of Georgia and its Board of Regents; the Technical College System of Georgia; and the city of Warner Robins that provided the 44-acres of land where the center sits. Middle Georgia State University and Central Georgia Technical College will offer programs for veterans in the facility and staff to run it.
This center will provide ongoing educational transitional support for vets from all branches of the military and it is long overdue. One of the speakers commented that we spend a minimum of eight weeks training soldiers in basic training and some up to 18 months transitioning them into military life, but on the other end we expect them to revert and sort out civilian life in a week.
Part of sorting out civilian life is the maze of educational opportunities open to veterans. The center will be staffed with instructors as well as personnel who can help them navigate through the financial aid packages they are eligible to receive. Using technology, the center can be accessed by veterans throughout the state and even if their circumstances change, their educational direction doesn't have to.
Though none of the speakers, which included Chancellor of the University System of Georgia Hank Huckaby, Commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia Gretchen Corbin or featured speaker Judge Larry O'Neal — who as a legislator convinced Gov. Nathan Deal to include the funds for VECTR in his budget — mentioned it, this type of commitment to our nation's veterans will score a number of positive points on the BRAC scale the next time it comes rolling through Congress. That's not why the effort was made. It was made because our veterans deserve it. However, it's not a bad ancillary benefit.